BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The third trial for the man accused of killing a North Carolina teen who was in Baltimore visiting her half sister in December 2010 is set to begin Monday.
Michael Maurice Johnson, 34, is charged with second-degree murder. This is the third trial he has had in this case.
In 2013 he was convicted of second-degree murder, but was granted a new trial after a judge ruled prosecutors withheld evidence. In 2014, he was acquitted after the judge declared a mistrial. That verdict was also overturned.
In July 2017, Johnson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the third trial, but it was declined.
Now, prosecutors are again trying to get a murder conviction against a man accused of strangling a teenage girl.
Johnson’s third trial began Monday, and it started with both sides asking for a kind of re-run of past trials.
The defense wanted to call the state prosecutors involved in those cases as witnesses in this case.
The current team of prosecutors are still searching for a missing witness who gave key testimony in the first trial.
Johnson is in legal limbo since the 2010 death of 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes.
The honor student from North Carolina vanished just after Christmas while visiting her half-sisters, sparking the biggest manhunt in Baltimore history.
Her body was later found floating in the Susquehanna River, and investigators said Johnson was the last to see her alive.
In his past trial, prosecutors say he had dated Barnes’ older sister, but became obsessed with the teen, before raping and strangling her.
Prosecutors got a murder conviction in 2013, but it was a short-lived victory.
A judge overturned the ruling before sentencing because of problems with key witness James McCray, who claimed he helped toss the body.
Then, a second go in the courtroom ended in mistrial.
Now, a new trial ordered by the highest court in the state is underway.
The family of the young victim is hoping this is their chance for justice.
“Her life was young. It was cut short. There was no reason. It was a senseless murder,” Russell Barnes said. “As a family, we cannot just let her life go like that.”
There were a lot of arguments Monday over whether McCray will take the stand.
Prosecutors say they don’t know where he is.
The defense says they don’t want him to turn up later as a surprise witness.
Johnson was dating Barnes’ sister and was the last known person to see Barnes alive. Barnes was in Baltimore visiting her half-sisters on winter break when she went missing. Her body was found four months later in the Susquehanna River.
Prosecutors believe Johnson raped her, strangled her, put her body in a large plastic container and threw it in the water.
Johnson has maintained his innocence in Barnes’ death and has been free since the acquittal after his second trial in early 2015.
The trial is expected to last for weeks, this time it will be up to a judge – not a jury – to decide Johnson’s fate.