Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The man convicted of murdering 16-year-old North Carolina honors student Phylicia Barnes will get a new trial. That decision came from a Baltimore judge Wednesday afternoon.
Derek Valcourt explains why and has reaction to the decision.
It has to do with the credibility of the state’s star witness and it means Barnes’ family will have to go through it all over again.
The North Carolina honors student disappeared three days after Christmas 2010 while visiting her sister’s Baltimore apartment.
An intense police search that garnered national media attention ended four months later when her body was found floating in the Susquehanna River.
Prosecutors say Johnson sexually assaulted Barnes, then killed her and dumped her body.
Defense attorneys requested a new trial on Feb. 19, saying the prosecution made improper statements to the jury and withheld information.
The request for a new trial was granted at his sentencing Wednesday, where Johnson faced up to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder.
“Let’s do it again,” said Phylicia’s father, Russell Barnes.
Russell Barnes calls a new trial a setback but says his family remains confident.
“We know the state has the correct man, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Barnes said.
The ruling for a new trial is all about the credibility of the state’s star witness, James McCray, who had been locked up in a Charles County jail for petty theft. McCray told jurors Johnson admitted to raping Barnes, showed him her body and asked for help getting rid of it.
Defense attorneys say new evidence uncovered after the trial would allow them to cast more doubt on McCray’s credibility in front of the jury. They fault the prosecution for not giving them McCray’s full criminal record, including information about a previous arrest in Baltimore County.
“The Baltimore County information tells us simply that Mr. McCray was in Baltimore County Detention Center during the time period that Mr. Johnson was arrested, so for him to say that and trying to make you almost feel like he’s in Charles County is not correct. It’s disingenuous and it leads the jury on a path that they should never have been led on,” said defense attorney Ivan Bates.
In addition, the defense says a day after the trial, a Montgomery County detective found McCray not credible. The defense has 10 days to request a new trial, but they say the prosecution did not turn over the detective’s findings until 15 days after the trial.
In a written statement, the city state’s attorney say they are disappointed in the judge’s decision but are ready to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
When Michael Johnson does go back on trial, he will face second-degree murder, not first-degree murder. That’s because double jeopardy rules apply, since the jury in the first trial already found him not guilty on the count of first-degree murder.
Michael Johnson remains in custody while he awaits his new trial on May 28.