After spending over three years in jail facing capital murder charges, James Johnson walked out of a Wilson County courtroom yesterday a free man. Johnson entered an Alford plea (meaning that he did not admit his guilt, but conceded that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him) to mispirision of a felony (basically, failing to report a crime to the police immediately). Mispirision carries a sentence of 15 months, less than half the time Johnson already served.
Johnson had faced the death penalty for the 2004 rape and murder of Brittany Willis. Johnson led police to the real killer, Kenneth Meeks. As payback, Meeks claimed that Johnson participated in the crime. There was no physical evidence to show that Johnson raped or murdered Willis, and Meeks later admitted that he acted alone. Johnson did help Meeks clean a vehicle used in the crime, but says that he did so under duress. Johnson reported all of this to the police a few days later.
The victim’s father said, “We are satisfied with what happened here today. We are just ready to move forward and find some closure.”