Local News

Trial date set for James Johnson

Posted November 26, 2008 10:17 a.m. EST
Updated November 26, 2008 11:09 a.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge has set the trial date for the high-profile case of a man accused of helping to cover up the 2004 shooting death of a Wilson teen.

Jury selection in the case of James Johnson will begin the week of Feb. 9, with the trial expected to begin the week of Feb. 16, Judge Milton Fitch Jr. ordered during a hearing Tuesday.

Fitch also said the jury pool will come from Edgecombe County, a change in his decision last week that jurors would come from Wake County.

Johnson's attorney had asked for a change of venue in the case because of pretrial publicity, but Fitch wanted to keep the trial in Wilson County.

Jurors will be picked in Edgecombe County and will travel to Wilson for the trial.

W. David McFadyen, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, said the decision to change where the jury will come from was a logistical one.

The Wake County Courthouse will loose courtrooms when a floor closes for renovation.

Johnson, 22, is charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in the June 2004 slaying of Brittany Willis. The 17-year-old was carjacked, taken to a field near Brentwood Shopping Center, robbed, raped and shot to death.

Kenneth Meeks pleaded guilty last year to Willis' slaying and is serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

Johnson was held in jail for more than three years on charges of murder, rape and kidnapping. Another special prosecutor assigned to review the case dismissed the charges last December and filed the accessory charge.

James Johnson has long maintained he wasn't involved in killing Willis. According to police and court records, no physical evidence connects him to the rape or homicide.

He admitted to wiping his fingerprints off Willis’ sport utility vehicle but said he did it under duress because Meeks showed him a gun. He went to police about the crime three days later.

Johnson's supporters, which include the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, want the case dropped altogether, saying he should be hailed as a hero for turning in Meeks to police.

Willis' family has said political motives and race have become the case’s focus, rather than bringing the person or people responsible for their child’s death to justice. They have said they have lost faith in the justice system.