James Arthur Johnson served a sentence of 39 months in jail. Because Special Prosecutor W. David McFadyen, Judge Milton Fitch and others applied sufficient pressure, Johnson accepted an Alford plea to a “misprision of felony” charge. Despite pleading guilty to the charge, Johnson was not technically or legally guilty of the charge. The misprision charge is rarely employed by the prosecution for a person who withholds his/her knowledge of a crime. James Arthur Johnson did not withhold knowledge of a crime because he was the one who told police the true identity of the person he believed to be responsible. The prosecutors were quick to point out that Mr. Johnson waited three days before going to the police with the evidence, but the charge of misprision of felony does not specify a time limit. Johnson didn’t wait three years, three months, or even three weeks before going to the police with his knowledge of the crime, yet he spent more than three years in jail because he did not go to the police within three hours or so of learning about the crime.
The plea deal in Johnson’s case is very chilling, because the misprision of felony can be leveled against anyone who does not report knowledge of a crime immediately. Most people want to at least think about the consequences to themselves and their families if they go to the police with information of a crime. As things stand with the James Arthur Johnson plea deal, as the clock ticks, people will be less inclined to come forward to help solve a crime out of fear of being incarcerated for misprision of felony… especially people of color and in the lower socio-economic strata.
Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe had full knowledge that James Arthur Johnson was not involved in the crimes against Brittany Willis, but because the confessed killer was an African American male, Wolfe transferred his hostility of the killer to all African American men. Wolfe wanted to punish Johnson because he was an African American, not because he felt he had any involvement in the crime. And, Wolfe, along with Wilson District Attorney Howard S. Boney Jr. were able to obtain an unreachable bail and drag out pre-trial proceedings for 39 months before a trial could no longer be delayed. Wolfe never had a case against Johnson, as the only witness, the confessed killer, later admitted he implicated Johnson out of anger because he had “snitched” on him. That didn’t deter Wolfe, as he lined up two other “eyewitnesses,” both with connections with the Wilson Police Department. However, when Reverend William Barber of the NAACP took interest in the case, the increased scrutiny forced Wolfe to silently jettison his witnesses.
Up until the day of the trial, Wolfe tried to wrangle a plea deal out of Johnson, who had languished in jail more than three years. Johnson refused, and in calling the prosecution’s bluff, the Wolfe and Boney folded like an accordion and announced they were turning the case over to a special prosecutor so there would be no doubt about the fairness of the proceedings.
The truth is that Wolfe, after releasing his two phony witnesses, had no plan of taking his case to trial because he had no case. All his marbles were on Johnson agreeing to a plea deal, which, fortunately, did not happen. However, because Johnson had stated during his initial interview with police investigators that he had helped wipe fingerprints off the victim's car (an event that had no bearing on the confession of the admitted killer), Forsyth Prosecutor Belinda Foster was forced to charge Johnson with “accessory after the fact” while dropping charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery against him. It was the threat of being convicted on the “accessory” charge (though remote) and the possibility of being sentenced to more jail time, along with unbearable pressure from others that made Johnson accept the Alford plea. The Alford plea allows the defendant to maintain his/her innocence while forcing him/her to admit that the prosecution has enough evidence to prevail in obtaining a conviction.
Like James Arthur Johnson unjustly served a sentence of 39 months without being convicted of a crime, it was the intent of the Durham prosecution, under Assistant District Attorney Angela Garcia-Lamarca, to have Crystal Gail Mangum serve a two year sentence… minimum. That was the first plea deal the prosecution made after Ms. Mangum’s arrest on charges which included felony attempted first degree murder, and felony first degree arson. The prosecution never had any intention of taking the case against Ms. Mangum to trial. Their intent was to follow the pattern of Bill Wolfe, which is: 1) levy a serious charge (felony attempted first degree murder); 2) use the charge to bolster a high bail ($ 1 million); 3) have the prosecution (which controls the pace of court proceedings) move at a snail’s pace; and 4) after sufficient time has been deemed to have been served, offer a plea deal in exchange for “time served.” This was the way things were supposed to go.
Unexpectedly, after Mangum had served 90 days behind bars, angelic bail bondsmen with courage, kindness, and generosity, satisfied the bond needed to release her from the Durham Detention Center, although a condition of her release was that she be placed under house arrest. The house arrest is the last vestige of leverage the prosecutors have on forcing Ms. Mangum to accept a plea deal, and so they offered it to Ms. Mangum in order to extricate themselves from the sticky mess that they had gotten into. The prosecution is not now, and has never been preparing to take this case to trial. It was a plea deal from the beginning, and the District Attorney’s office was counting on the other state employees from the Public Defender’s office, to encourage Ms. Mangum to accept a plea deal.
Again, unexpectedly, members of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong enveloped Ms. Mangum in their protective arms, and encouraged her not to plead guilty for a crime that she did not commit. Ms. Mangum needs to be restored, as best as possible, to the same condition that she was on the day of her arrest: living independently and supporting her three children in an apartment, employed full-time, and taking a full load in a graduate program at NCCU where she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in psychology. The Durham Police Department and Durham District Attorney’s office have a duty to restore in Crystal and her children faith in law enforcement, so that when the need arises they can feel comfort in calling 9-1-1 instead of consternation.
James Arthur Johnson pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit. We, members of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong, do not want history to repeat in Crystal Mangum’s case.
Link follows to News & Observer article about Ms. Mangum and her attorney: