RALEIGH, N.C. — A grand jury on Monday indicted a Wilson man who spent more than three years in jail charged with murder on a lesser charge of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder in connection with the 2004 shooting death of a teenager.
Last month, a special prosecutor dropped the murder charge, as well as first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault and rape charges against James Johnson, 21, citing a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was involved in killing Brittany Willis.
Johnson – who spent more than three years in jail awaiting trial before being released under a reduced bond in September – has maintained his innocence of all charges in the case.
The North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to have the case against Johnson dismissed, alleging racial discrimination and that authorities misled the community in the case.
In a letter to the North Carolina attorney general dated Jan. 13, the NAACP asks for quick action in the case and that the North Carolina State Bar expedite its review of a complaint it filed against the Wilson County prosecutors who originally handled the case.
"The state should be investigating the actions and negligence of the authorities who began this sad saga," NAACP chapter President Rev. William Barber said.
Court files show no physical evidence connects Johnson to Wilis' rape or death. Kenneth Meeks, 20, who pleaded guilty to the crime in April 2006, wrote in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times that Johnson was not involved in the crime.
Johnson has admitted to wiping his fingerprints off Willis' sport utility vehicle, but said that he was under duress at the time, because Meeks had showed him a gun. Johnson 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."
Now that case against is moving forward, another special prosecutor will have to be assigned to the case.
Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster, who was appointed to review the case, will not take the case to trial herself, as previously announced when she took on the task.
Willis' family, in recent weeks, has expressed disappointment about how the criminal case has been handled, criticizing the NAACP and others. In a letter to The Wilson Daily Times, the family said political motives and race have become the focus of the case rather than bringing those responsible for Willis' death to justice.
A third person, Julian Tyson Deans, 22, is also charged with accessory after the fact. He has been out of jail since 2004, and has not gone to trial.