James Johnson thanks supporters

February 18, 2009 8:43:00 PM PST
James Johnson made his first public appearance at a prayer service in Goldsboro Wednesday night.Dozens surrounded Johnson in the pulpit at Greenleaf Christian Church as he thanked them for their support.

"I know it's too many to name, but I just thank everyone," Johnson said.

Johnson was originally charged with the slaying of 17-year-old Hunt High School graduate Brittney Willis in 2004. She was raped, murdered and dumped at a construction site in Wilson.

Johnson eventually spent three years in jail before his friend, Kenneth Meeks, admitted he pulled off the crime single-handedly, and the murder charges were dropped. But Johnson was later charged with accessory after the fact.

Prosecutors contend Johnson waited three days to report Willis' murder to police. His lawyer and supporters say he's the reason the real killer is behind bars.

On Monday, Johnson accepted an Alford Plea to attempted misprision of felony. Under the Alford Plea, Johnson won't serve any time, nor will the judgment go on his record.

"I didn't know when things were going to happen and I didn't know what was going to happen, I just knew God was going to make a way," Johnson said.

NAACP leaders held a news conference Wednesday morning to say they want the state to create a special commission to review criminal cases to make sure no one innocent has to go to jail.

Johnson's parents and Rev. Barber say more needs to be done.

"If James wears a Scarlett Letter it is an indictment on the system," Barber said. "We must stop this."

Next month, local civil rights leaders will head to Washington D.C. to speak with the US Justice Department about Johnson's case and other cases like it.

Johnson says he is going to college and plans to get his life back together.


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