Local News

NAACP: Johnson Case Not Getting a Fair Look

Posted December 18, 2007 12:09 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2007 8:47 p.m. EST

— Wilson police investigators originally involved in the 2004 murder case of Brittany Willis have been asking questions at the request of the special prosecutor appointed to review the case, the North Carolina NAACP said Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, chapter President Rev. Dr. William Barber said he had concerns about their work and about two other aspects of Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster's handling of the case.

"It is deeply troubling. It is deeply suspicious," Barber said.

Barber cited a transcript of a Nov. 7 interview Wilson police did with Kenneth Meeks, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to Willis's death and wrote in a local paper that Johnson was not involved in the crime.

The NAACP wants to know why Wilson police are still assisting with the case if the purpose of the special prosecutor is to evaluate the evidence from a new perspective.

"No one should be involved in this that already had a preconceived predetermined notion, because it taints the process," Barber said.

Foster was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Johnson, 21, spent three years in jail awaiting trial on first-degree kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder charges before being released earlier this year on a $60,000 bond.

The NAACP, which claims Johnson was discriminated against, has been at the forefront of the high-profile campaign to dismiss the case because of a lack of evidence.

Investigators found no DNA from Johnson where Willis was found. Johnson also passed a polygraph test in which he denied involvement in the crime.

Johnson 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.

Also a question the NAACP has is why Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith has been assisting Foster with the review. He has been in contact with Johnson's attorneys, but is not authorized to work on the case, the organization claimed.

"It is unclear whether Ms. Foster has complete independence in how she is conducting the investigation," Barber said.

He said Keith had failed to act as a "minister of justice" when he prosecuted the case of Darryl Hunt in 1984. Hunt was convicted of a similar crime, and DNA evidence exonerated him in 2004.

Foster has the full support of her home office to gather information and has the authority to take necessary steps to give Johnson's case a fair and fresh evaluation, a representative for the state Administrative Office of the Courts said.

It is also up to her to make a final decision whether to dismiss the charges, amend the charges, negotiate a plea deal or recommend moving forward with the case, the AOC said in a written response to questions that Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., asked on behalf of the NAACP last week.

The NAACP's third concern, Barber said Tuesday, was that the AOC was asked to appoint two special prosecutors. Only one has been appointed, he said.

The AOC said that if Foster decides to move forward with a trial, another attorney would be appointed because the Forsyth County District's Attorney Office cannot spare Foster to see the case to trial.