Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ)—It was one of the biggest missing person cases in the history of Baltimore. The disappearance of a North Carolina teenager ended tragically with the discovery of her body. Now the man accused of her murder stands trial.
Derek Valcourt has more on the jury selection now underway in the case.
The judge refused to allow media inside court for the jury selection process. He says he needs the space for the huge pool of potential jurors as they try to find 12 men and women who can remain unbiased despite two years of high-profile media attention in this case.
For months, city police led an all out search for 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes, who disappeared in December 2010 while visiting her sister Deanna’s Baltimore apartment.
Then four months later came the gruesome discovery of her body floating in the Susquehanna River.
The police investigation pointed to now 28-year-old Michael Johnson, who dated Phylicia’s sister for 10 years.
He was the last person to see her alive.
Prosecutors believe he strangled her and disposed of her body.
“We believe that we’ve got the right guy. We do hope it provides some measure of closure, but now we have to move forward with the trial,” said Gregg Bernstein, Baltimore City State’s Attorney.
The trial means mountains of evidence, including hundreds of phone calls and text messages between Johnson and Phylicia Barnes, a sex tape involving the victim, her sister, Johnson and another male, testimony from witnesses who reported seeing Johnson moving a storage container big enough to hold her body, and phone calls in which Johnson discusses fleeing the country to Brazil to avoid arrest.
Defense attorneys have said the prosecution’s case is circumstantial. They plan to attack the credibility of the lead detective in the case.
Defense attorneys have indicated they plan to call a witness who says he saw Phylicia Barnes alive after her reported disappearance — that was in Cecil County where her body was later found.
A gag order in place means attorneys and witnesses can’t discuss the case with the media.
Barnes was visiting from North Carolina, where she lived. She planned to attend Towson University.