Defense Aims To Discredit State’s Star Witness In Phylicia Barnes Murder Retrial

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)—It’s back to the drawing board for attorneys on both sides of the Phylicia Barnes murder case after a judge throws out her accused killer’s conviction and orders a new trial.

Derek Valcourt has more on the judge’s ruling and what it will mean for case.

The ruling now arms Michael Johnson’s defense attorneys with more ammunition in their fight to discredit the state’s star witness.

Johnson will get a second chance to prove he did not kill 16-year-old Barnes, and then dump her body in the Susquehanna River, after Judge Al Nance sided with defense attorneys, ruling that mistakes by the city state’s attorney’s office made Johnson’s trial unfair.

“One of the things that’s important with our system is that everybody play by the same rules. I think it’s pretty obvious that the state got caught with their hand in the cookie jar,” said Ivan Bates, defense attorney.

The mistakes centered on the state’s star witness–petty thief James McCray.

McCray’s testimony — that Johnson raped 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes, showed him her body and asked for help getting rid of it–was crucial to the state’s case.

But the judge ruled prosecutors failed to disclose detailed information about McCray’s criminal record–information they say could have been used to convince a jury that McCray was telling a lie.

And Nance ruled prosecutors waited too long to share new evidence obtained after the trial that showed a police detective in Montgomery County did not believe McCray was credible as a witness in another case there. That’s information defense attorneys say could also have swayed a jury from believing McCray.

“The granting of a motion for a new trial in criminal cases — at least in Maryland and I’ll bet it’s the same throughout the country — is quite, quite rare,” said Byron Warnken, http://www.warnkenlaw.com.

Legal expert Byron Warnken says while the new evidence will help the defense, it likely won’t stop prosecutors.

“But it certainly is going to be a lot tougher road. As I’m gathering it, it certainly wasn’t a slam dunk case the first time. It was very circumstantial, and what we are saying is at the bare minimum this case has gotten a lot weaker,” Warnken said.

Johnson’s second trial is slated to start May 28. Barnes’ family members say they remain confident that Johnson will be convicted again.

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