Local News

James Johnson files complaint against former attorney

Posted July 8, 2008 7:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2008 4:33 p.m. EDT

— A Wilson man who spent more than three years in jail charged with murder and rape has filed a complaint against the public defender who initially represented him.

James Johnson said Tuesday that he has filed a grievance with the North Carolina State Bar against Johnny Gaskins but declined to comment further.

Gaskins was one of two court-appointed attorneys representing James Johnson until December 2006 on first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery,  and in connection with the June 28, 2004, shooting death of Brittany Willis, 17.

Gaskins was dropped from the case when prosecutors decided they were not going to seek the death penalty.

Johnson, who has maintained his innocence, has said he had nothing to do with killing Willis. His supporters say he went to police three days after the murder to report what he knew about the crime.

In December 2007, special prosecutor Belinda Foster dropped all charges against Johnson, citing a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson was involved in killing Willis. She did charge him with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder.

In an interview that originally aired May 17 on Fox 50's NC Wanted, Gaskins said Johnson "shouldn't have cleaned up the car" because "that's illegal."

"We never took the position he was Mr. Clean," Gaskins said. "If he helped clean the car, he shouldn't have done that. That's a criminal offense."

It's unclear, however, if the comments he made in the NC Wanted interview led to Johnson's complaint. Attempts to contact Johnson's current attorney, Irving Joyner, were unsuccessful. The State Bar would not comment on the complaint.

Attempts to contact Gaskins were also unsuccessful.

Johnson is one of three men charged in connection with Willis' death. Kenneth Meeks pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April 2006 and subsequently wrote in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times that Johnson was innocent. Julian Tyson Deans also faces the charge of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

Johnson's supporters, which include the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, want the case dropped and allege racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe.

A second special prosecutor, retired District Attorney W. David McFadyen, was appointed in March to handle the case. He has no time frame in mind to decide whether Johnson will go to trial.