Hundreds protest Johnson hearing in Wilson

January 4, 2008 1:04:09 PM PST
Hundreds of people arrived at the Wilson County Courthouse Friday to protest what they say is an unfair murder trial.

James Johnson, once faced murder charges in the 2004 death of Brittany Willis, now that those charges have been dropped, the 21-year-old Wilson man now faces charges of accessory after the fact.

Johnson made his way into the courtroom where it took only five minutes for the judge to rule. Johnson's attorneys waived a probably cause hearing which means the case will be submitted to the grand jury for indictment later this month. But supporters of the Willis family were also in court, protesting what they say is an unfair trail on behalf of Brittany.

Seventeen-year-old Brittany Willis was raped and murdered in the summer of 2004. Kevin Meeks and James Johnson, who was 17 at the time, was arrested for her murder.

After three years in prison a special prosecutor dropped the charges against James Johnson stating there wasn't enough evidence to support Johnson had raped and murdered Brittany Willis.

Johnson has always proclaimed his innocence, saying a former friend named Kevin Meeks committed the murder and bragged about it. But Johnson said when he told authorities about Meeks, Meeks named Johnson as the murderer. Meeks later recanted his statement and admitted he killed Willis. Johnson told police he went to the crime scene with Meeks and to a car wash to clean Meeks' vehicle.

Now prosecutors have charged Johnson with accessory after the fact saying Johnson helped Kenneth Meeks cover up the crime. North Carolina NAACP President, William Barber says Johnson is prepared to face the judge. "We are not here today to discuss those particular specifics. But the reality is, the law says very carefully that you have to assist a person in getting away. James did not do that. James was not there when the crime was committed."

As the hearing got underway, at least 200 people sat in the courtroom protesting the hearing, and supporting the Willis family. Another 200 people including Stacie Irvy, waited in the hallway. "I just want justice to be served," she said.

Cecilia Irvy, a Willis family supporter adds, "There should be a trial by jury and let the jury decide wether he's guilty or not."

Leni Crook, a silent protester broke her silence about what she calls an injustice to the Willis family. "As a mom, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for Judy. I look at her everyday and I hurt for her. It's been a circus - front pages of newspapers, news reels, of the injustice of a young man, but no one has focused on pain and suffering of the Willis family," she said.

The crowd shouted and booed Reverend William Barber as he talked about the hearing. "I should remind you that it was James that came forward without regard, without fear of the risk for himself and turned the real murderer into authorities," he said in front of the crowd. "And for doing this right thing he has already been wrongly rewarded 3 and a half years of incarceration for a crime he didn't commit."

Barber added, "Their anger shouldn't be at us, but the system that misled them with wrongful prosecution."

Kenneth Meeks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Willis' death.


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