Leland man pleads guilty to sexual assault on underage girl (UPDATED)

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James Tyrus Johnson
James Tyrus Johnson

A Leland man charged with a sexual assault on a girl in 2009 while serving as a pastor will serve no prison time after pleading guilty in Brunswick County Superior Court.

James Tyrus Johnson, 51, of Green Loop Road in Leland, pleaded guilty to crimes against nature on Tuesday, according to court records.

Johnson was arrested by detectives with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 3, 2009. He was indicted on the charges attempted first-degree rape, two counts of first-degree sex offense of a child and three counts of indecent liberties with a child  in December 2009.

According to indictments, Johnson was charged in connection with several sexual assaults on a girl under the age of 16 between September 2006 to April 2009. The victim in the case had attended Olive Branch Church on Mt. Misery Road in Leland, where Johnson was a pastor, according to the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office.

The crimes against nature charge was entered as a new charge in a bill of information that was filed in superior court the day of Johnson’s plea. All other charges in the case were dismissed as part of Johnson’s plea agreement.

According to Assistant District Attorney Cathi Radford, the move to file the bill of information, which “is basically an indictment without a grand jury,” was agreed upon by Radford and Johnson’s attorney, Mike Ramos, as part of the plea agreement.

“The case, from the beginning, was investigated as a light disclosure,” Radford said. “DSS first got involved. They called law enforcement. Law enforcement then called us. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing…The case–for some reason–just languished.”

Over the years, investigators and prosecutors had trouble locating the victim.

“She has since left the area,” Radford said about the victim. “She has since graduated from high school…She wanted to move on with her life. She didn’t want to come back to Brunswick County. She told me to get a felony if I could, which is what I did. She knew about the plea.”

Superior Court Judge Ebern T. Watson sentenced Johnson to five to six months in prison, which was suspended, and ordered him to be placed on 12 months of unsupervised probation. He was ordered to have no contact with the victim.

He will not be required to register as a sex offender as crimes against nature is not a registerable offense in North Carolina, according to state law.

“The registration was the hold-up,” Radford said.