Local News

Lawmaker Wants Civil Rights Probe in James Johnson Case

Posted December 6, 2007 2:28 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2007 3:21 p.m. EST

— A U.S. Congressman is calling for a federal probe to determine whether a Wilson man's constitutional rights have been violated.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General asking for the investigation into the case of James Johnson, who spent three years under a $1 million bond on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Brittany Willis, 17, of Wilson.

In September, Johnson, 21, was released under a reduced $60,000 bond, and the Wilson County District Attorney's Office handed the case over to a special prosecutor.

"The state has yet to resolve the very serious charges against James Johnson," Butterfield said in a statement released Thursday. "Without question, he's being denied the constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy resolution."

Johnson also faces kidnapping, robbery and rape charges but has maintained he was not involved in the crime.

A second man, Kenneth Meeks, was arrested in connection with the case and pleaded guilty last year. In a letter to The Wilson Daily Times, he said he acted alone and that all evidence in the case proved Johnson's innocence.

Court records show no DNA evidence from Johnson at the crime scene where Willis was found. He also passed a polygraph test in which he denied involvement in committing the crime.

He did admit to helping Meeks clean fingerprints off Willis' sport utility vehicle, but said he was under duress and thought Meeks still might have had a weapon. He went to police three days later and reported the crime.

In October, the case was turned over to Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster, who will determine whether it goes to trial.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which has been at the forefront of the high-profile campaign to dismiss the case, claims Johnson was discriminated against.

Late last month, the national NAACP also called for the case to be dismissed. Butterfield, who is from Wilson, wrote the letter at the NAACP's request.

He said the probe is necessary to protect Johnson's civil rights and to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"Three years is long enough. It's time to close this matter. The families and Wilson community need closure," Butterfield said.