'Battle Not Over,' James Johnson Says
Posted December 21, 2007 6:44 a.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2007 4:25 p.m. EST
Wilson, N.C. — Surrounded by his parents, NAACP officials and other supporters, the Wilson man at the center of a racially charged case said Friday he understands "the battle is not over" to clear his name in connection with a 2004 homicide case.
"I'm not guilty," Johnson said after a scheduled court appearance to face a new charge in the case. "I will just continue to fight here to full complete exoneration of any wrongdoing in this case."
Earlier this week, a special prosecutor dismissed first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery charges against Johnson, 21, but charged him with a reduced charge of accessory after the fact to murder in connection with the June 28, 2004, rape and shooting death of Brittany Willis, 17.
Johnson, who awaited trial in jail on the murder charge for more than three years, has admitted in the past to helping clean evidence from the murder scene.
He has said he was under duress at the time and went to police about the crime three days later.
"(I want) everyone in the general public to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself one question," Johnson's father, Arthur Johnson, said Friday. "'If I were in the presence of someone that I just learned committed this heinous crime -- and the weaponry still in their possession – how would I react?'"
"He should have been honored as a hero who chose to do the right thing," added Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"He broke the no-snitch rule of the streets. He was not there when the crime occurred," Barber continued. "James did the right thing. He and his father walked into the judicial system voluntarily and helped them solve the crime."
Barber has led the high-profile campaign to have the case against Johnson dismissed and has claimed prosecutors and police investigators discriminated against Johnson.
"James, as a teenager, did not do wrong," Barber said. "Wrong was done by him by the system. And to further prosecute him is wrong."
Barber has called for an investigation into whether Johnson's rights were constitutionally violated. At the NAACP's request, U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield requested the U.S. Attorney General's Office review of the case.
The NAACP has also filed a grievance with the North Carolina State Bar against Wilson County prosecutors. District Attorney Howard Boney and Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe have refused to comment about why they continued with the case, despite no clear evidence linking Johnson to the crime.
Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts, said the Wilson County district attorney has authority over the case again, but that he expects another request for a special prosecutor.
"We don't know all that's going on right now – how it's going to be handled – if it's going to be someone from the state or here (Wilson)," Barber said.
"Those things are being worked out. We're going through the formalities, and we're going to continue to stand with this young man as we have."
Willis's family has said very little publicly about the case and have not spoken about the latest developments.
Through friends, however, they have said in the past that they believe Johnson bears some responsibility for waiting to go to police with information about the case.