Reporting Monique Griego
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The family friend accused of killing Phylicia Barnes was back in court on Wednesday to be arraigned on murder charges.
Monique Griego was there as Michael Johnson gave his plea to the judge.
Johnson once again maintained his innocence by pleading not guilty in court.
From the start, investigators suspected Johnson was involved in the disappearance and murder of Phylicia Barnes.
The 16-year-old honor student vanished in December of 2010 while visiting her sister in Northwest Baltimore.
Johnson dated Barnes’ sister for several years and was the last person to see her alive. But it would be 16 months before police charged him with murder.
Wednesday, in a downtown courtroom filled with Barnes’ family and friends all wearing purple, the accused killer pleaded not guilty.
“We’re just letting justice prevail right now. Glad that the state’s attorney did bring charges against Michael Johnson,” said Russell Barnes, victim’s father.
Police believe Johnson likely strangled Phylicia Barnes inside her sister’s apartment, and then used a plastic tub to move her body before dumping the teen in the Susquehanna River.
Johnson, however, maintains his innocence.
“There’s nothing connecting the dots in any way, shape, form or fashion that Michael Johnson is responsible,” said Russell Neverdon, Johnson’s attorney.
Johnson’s attorney told WJZ he doesn’t believe prosecutors have solid evidence showing Phylicia Barnes was even strangled and called the case a rush to judgement.
“They generally go with the last person to see them had to be responsible for that person’s death,” Neverdon said.
For Phylicia Barnes’ father, Wednesday’s hearing was another in the emotional fight to put his daughter’s alleged killer behind bars.
“We will make sure we stay focused and make sure justice is served hopefully in Phylicia’s case,” Russell Barnes said.
Johnson is being held without bail. A trial date has been set for August 13.
Phylicia Barnes’ family always wears purple to court because it was her favorite color.