The Honorable Judge Milton Fitch, Jr., in following Attorney General Roy Cooper’s playbook to protect prosecutors - such as Wilson Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe – who follow the North Carolina state tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color,” has denied the change of venue motion filed by the attorney of the “accessory after the fact” defendant James Arthur Johnson.
Mr. Johnson was held without trial in the Brittany Willis murder case for 39 months before charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery were dropped by a special prosecutor, Belinda Foster, an assistant district attorney from Forsyth County. Ms. Foster, who was forced by her boss, Forsyth District Attorney Tom Keith, to level the “accessory after the fact” charge against Johnson, did so only on the condition that she not be forced to prosecute the frivolous case. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts could not find among its nearly 600 state prosecutors one who was willing to take on this flawed case, finally arranged for private sector prosecutor W. David McFadyen to take the case as a special prosecutor, at extra taxpayer expense.
Although James Johnson was a young man with a promising future, no prior run ins with the law, was fielding offers for a college soccer scholarship (the love of a sport which was shared by him and the unfortunate victim Brittany Willis), and provided Wilson police with name of the perpetrator of the Willis murder despite his personal risk of breaking the “no snitch” rule of the streets, Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe built a case against him based solely on statements made by the confessed killer (after he was told by police that James “snitched” on him). Years later, the killer recanted the statements which implicated James Johnson, stating that they were made because he was angry at the time for Johnson turning him over to the police.
So, although James Johnson had no connection or participation in the crimes against Ms. Willis, he is being savagely pursued by Private Sector Prosecutor McFadyen, at taxpayer
expense, because he wiped fingerprints off the victim’s SUV, even though that forensic evidence had no relevance in the prosecution of the confessed killer.
James Johnson has already languished in jail for 39 months on charges that were eventually dropped, so what does the prosecution hope to accomplish by continuing on with this nonsense? Have the young man without a criminal record, who (though not obligated by law) turned in the killer to the police, spend more time in jail? That may be part of the reason for taking this case to trial, but the main underlying reason for this waste of court time and taxpayer money is to protect Prosecutor Bill Wolfe from a charge of prosecutorial misconduct filed with the State Bar by the NAACP. Vilifying James Johnson by proceeding with the case is part of the plan of attack to try and justify the many months Johnson was incarcerated due to Wolfe’s misconduct. Another facet is to deprive Johnson of the reward money offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis ($20,000.00) which he earned. For him to receive a reward would insinuate that he performed a positive community service, and fly against the image the prosecutors wanted to paint of him.
The city of Wilson has been torn apart by this case because of the actions and statements of the police and prosecutors. After the killer recanted and the prosecutors were left without a case, Prosecutor Wolfe manufactured two eyewitnesses (both with ties to the Wilson police department – one being a retired Wilson police officer). The case was going to proceed with their testimony when Dr. Rev. William Barber II of the NAACP became involved and brought media attention to the case. It was then and only then that the Wolfe’s prosecutorial team decided the scrutiny would be too much and that their “eyewitnesses” would not hold up. Therefore, they quietly backtracked, and made no further mention of them.
Defense attorney Irving Joyner wanted to seek a change of venue from that divided county, and the private sector prosecutor agreed to the motion, however, Judge Fitch refused. He did not give a reason for his refusal to change venue. Judge Fitch suggested that a jury be selected from outside the county and transported to the Wilson Court. Initially he agreed to having a jury selected from Wake County, but then used the feeble excuse that the courthouse was being renovated and that there wasn’t sufficient space for the selection to take place. Without considering Durham or Orange County, Fitch decides to select a jury from neighboring Edgecombe County.
Then, Fitch told the trial court administrator William Nicholls that he wanted to keep the case. Again, he did not give an explanation why.
All of this does not bode well for defendant James Arthur Johnson. What is obvious is that if Judge Fitch was independent, fair-minded, and concerned about the city of Wilson and the state of North Carolina, he would have immediately dismissed the case presented by McFadyen against Johnson. The state is not holding back any stops to protect its prosecutors of selective justice. It is only the rare prosecutor who works by the principle of “equal justice for all” (Mike Nifong) who the state will abandon, and then set out to make of him/her an example.
If true justice existed in the state of North Carolina:
1. the special prosecutor would not have pursued the “accessory after the fact case;”
2. the judge, upon receiving the “accessory after the fact” case would have dismissed it;
3. the judge, if proceeding with the trial, would agree to a change of venue; and
4. if the judge was going to bus in a jury to Wilson from another county, the jury would come from Wake, Orange, Durham, or another county that is not adjacent to Wilson’s county.
With his “What happens in Wilson, stays in Wilson” mentality, Judge Milton Fitch Jr. has made the case that he should be taken off the James Johnson case, and that it should be assigned to another judge.