State News

N.C. NAACP: More work ahead to protect innocent

Posted February 18, 2009 2:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2009 4:33 p.m. EST

— The president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP says while a man jailed for three years on a murder charge won't spend more time behind bars, an injustice is still being fought.

The Rev. William Barber told a news conference Wednesday that more needs to be done to prevent prosecutors from wrongly targeting people not guilty of crimes.

James Johnson had been charged with rape, murder and kidnapping in the death of 17-year-old Brittany Willis in 2004. The now 22-year-old Johnson spent more than three years in jail before he was released on the charges, which were dropped. On Monday, he entered an Alford plea to attempted misprision of a felony in connection with the June 2004, slaying of Brittany Tyler Willis.

The charge is punishable by a maximum of 15 months in prison, but Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Milton Fitch gave Johnson a prayer for judgment continued.

That means the court did not impose a punishment. If Johnson is ever charged with another crime or convicted of a crime, he could still be sentenced in the Willis case.

"The prayer for judgment, while not a final determination, is a scarlet letter that will hang with (Johnson) forever and a day," Fitch said. "PJC is not appealable, nor is it expungeable."

In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to take the plea deal, because there is sufficient evidence that could find him or her guilty.