National NAACP: Wilson Murder Suspect Should Be Exonerated
Posted November 29, 2007 11:35 p.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2007 4:14 p.m. EST
Wilson, N.C. — The national NAACP is advocating for charges to be dropped against a man charged in the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Wilson teenager.
The North Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to exonerate James Johnson, 21, of Wilson.
Johnson's bond was lowered from $1 million to $60,000 in September, allowing him to be released from jail, where he spent three years awaiting trial for the crimes committed against Brittany Willis, 17, in June 2004.
A petition on the national NAACP's Web site says, "We demand that all charges against James Johnson, a young African American man, be dismissed. James Johnson should be exonerated."
It deplores the "shocking and terrible" rape and murder of Willis. The high-school soccer player was found dead in a field near the Brentwood Shopping Center.
The petition – addressed to Gov. Mike Easley, Attorney General Roy Cooper and Sarah Parker, chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court – asks that they "grant the special prosecutor independence to conduct a thorough and unfettered investigation of James Johnson’s case."
In September, the Administrative Office of the Courts – of which Parker is president – appointed Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster as special prosecutor to evaluate the case and decide whether Johnson should be tried.
The NAACP maintains that the case against Johnson is based on discrimination and that it should have been dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
In 2006, Kenneth Meeks, a second man arrested in the case, pleaded guilty to killing Willis, and in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times, said he acted alone. He wrote that all the evidence proved Johnson is innocent.
Records show no DNA evidence from Johnson at the crime scene, and Johnson passed a polygraph test in which he denied involvement in the crime.
Johnson did admit to helping Meeks clean fingerprints off Willis' vehicle but said he was under duress. He went to police three days later and reported the crime.
At the time of Johnson's release, Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter, said he hoped it would spur a far-ranging reform of the state's justice system, which he said is flawed and allows racism and classism to exist.