Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Her disappearance grabbed national headlines, and now a jury has convicted the man accused of Phylicia Barnes’ murder.
Derek Valcourt has the verdict and reaction from the victim’s family.
Phylicia Barnes’ family has been waiting more than two years for the justice they say they got Wednesday with a second-degree murder conviction against Michael Johnson.
“This is a great day. I can breathe now,” said Phylicia’s mother Janice Mustafa.
Janice Mustafa is feeling relief now that a jury convicted 29-year-old Michael Johnson with murdering her 16-year-old daughter Phylicia. The North Carolina honors student disappeared three days after Christmas in 2010 while visiting her sister’s Baltimore apartment for the holidays.
An intense police search that garnered national media attention ended four months later when her naked body was discovered floating in the Susquehanna River. Investigators quickly focused in on her sister’s ex-boyfriend–Johnson–the last known person to see her alive.
“My family, we’re more relieved. This should not have happened, but we’ve gotten here and we’ve gotten a verdict and we’re pleased and we believe that Phylicia really can rest now in peace,” said Phylicia’s father Russell Barnes.
At trial, the most incriminating testimony came from petty thief James McCray who said Johnson admitted to raping and choking Barnes, showed him her body and asked for help getting rid of it. Defense attorneys say McCray’s testimony was inaccurate and promise to appeal.
“It is abundantly clear I think anybody who sat in there–who really could go in with an open mind looking at the evidence as presented in this case–would not have come back with that verdict,” said defense attorney Russell Neverdon.
Johnson’s family is equally disappointed in the verdict.
“It is what it is, and we still feel in our hearts that Michael Johnson is not guilty,” said Glenton Johnson, the defendant’s father.
City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein called it a difficult case built mostly on circumstantial evidence.
“We’re prepared to take the tough cases to court when we feel that the evidence warrants, and at the end of the day of course this is really about Phylicia Barnes and her family,” Bernstein said.
Michael Johnson now faces the possibility of up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 20.
After Phylicia Barnes’ murder, Maryland lawmakers passed a law in her name requiring better coordination between government agencies when it comes to missing children cases.