Local News

Vigil Held to Support Family of Slain Wilson Teen

Posted January 12, 2008 12:27 a.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2008 11:00 p.m. EST

— Family members, friends and others gathered Friday night on the steps of the Wilson County Courthouse for a candlelight vigil in honor of a slain teen.

Brittany Willis, 17, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in June 2004. Her body was found in a field near Brentwood Shopping Center, and investigators said robbery was a motive for the crime.

"We lost one of our true friends," Nick Mickell said at the rally. "She was a joy to be around, and it's like a hole in your heart."

Last month, prosecutors dropped a murder charge against a man that had been accused of participating in Willis' slaying.

James Johnson, who spent more than three years in jail awaiting trial, is now charged with accessory after the fact of murder. That charge is scheduled to go before a grand jury on Monday.

Another man, Kenneth Meeks, pleaded guilty to killing Willis and is serving a life sentence in prison. Meeks has said he acted alone and Johnson wasn't involved in the teen's death.

Johnson has maintained his innocence on all charges, saying Meeks picked him up in Willis' sport utility vehicle and took him to see her body.

He has also said that he was afraid for his own life after Meeks showed him a gun and drove him to a car wash. Under duress, Johnson said, he wiped his own fingerprints off the SUV.

He went to police three days later. Johnson's father said his son struggled with breaking what he called "the no-snitch rule of the streets."

The North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to dismiss all charges against Johnson and has spoken publicly several times about the case, claiming racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct and saying Johnson should be viewed as a hero for helping authorities solve the crime.

Willis' family and friends have become more vocal in recent weeks, saying they are concerned over how the case has been handled.

"We need to have someone looking at this to make sure that everything has been properly done," family friend Nora Williford said at Friday's vigil.

Organizers passed out fliers with a list of local and state officials and asked supporters to contact the officials with their concerns about the case.

"Hopefully this will be resolved one way or another. I think tonight is a good showing, sends a good message. So, thank you all for coming out. God bless you," said Randy Willis, Brittany Willis' father.

"(The Willises) do have people behind them that care about them, and we just want to see justice done," supporter Susan Auman said.