Local News

Jury seated in James Johnson trial

Posted February 12, 2009 2:23 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2009 5:13 p.m. EST

— Jury selection is complete, and opening arguments will begin Monday in the trial of a Wilson man accused of helping to cover up a homicide nearly five years ago.

James Johnson, 22, is charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in the slaying of Brittany Willis, a 17-year-old who was kidnapped, robbed, raped and shot to death on June 28, 2004.

The 12 jurors and three alternates chosen over the past four days will travel every day during the trial from Tarboro in Edgecombe County to Wilson in Wilson County.

Jurors were picked from Edgecombe County, in part, because of pretrial publicity of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and racial division over the case. Johnson is black, Willis was white.

Johnson was detained for more than three years on charges of murder, rape and kidnapping before he was released on a reduced bond in September 2007.

In December 2007, a special prosecutor dismissed those charges, but a grand jury indicted Johnson on the lesser accessory charge in January 2008.

Another man, Kenneth Meeks, pleaded guilty to Willis' slaying and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Johnson has admitted to wiping his fingerprints off Willis’ SUV but said he did it under duress because Meeks showed him a gun. He went to police about the crime three days later.