BALTIMORE (WJZ) — On trial again. Jury selection continues for the man accused of killing 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes back in 2010.
Investigator Mike Hellgren reports Michael Johnson was found guilty last year, but that verdict was overturned.
A new trial begins with a new judge, but the prosecution’s theory that Michael Johnson choked Phylicia Barnes after becoming sexually obsessed with her remains the same.
Jury selection took the entire day. Opening statements are supposed to begin some time Friday.
Michael Johnson is on trial again for the murder of Phylicia Barnes. He’s the last person to see her alive.
Barnes was just 16 years old, an honor student with a glowing smile. She vanished just after Christmas in 2010. The search for her became the largest in Baltimore history, ending in heartbreak when her body was found floating in the Susquehanna River.
“No human should ever be disposed of like that. For her to rest properly, we have to make sure justice is served,” said Russell Barnes, victim’s father.
The problem for prosecutors has been a lack of evidence to pin the crime on Johnson, who once dated Barnes’ sister.
Their theory is Johnson raped Barnes, then strangled her when she wouldn’t stop crying and stuffed her body in a plastic tub, which was never found.
The judge asked prospective jurors whether they would have strong reaction to hearing racial slurs, seeing photographs of Barnes’ decomposed body and watching a sexually explicit video.
At Johnson’s first trial, jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder, but Judge Alfred Nance threw out the conviction, claiming prosecutors did not tell the defense problems with the key witness–a man named James McGray–who said he helped Johnson get rid of the body.
“One of the things that’s important with our judicial system is that everybody play by the same set of rules,” said Ivan Bates, defense attorney. “I think it’s pretty obvious that the state got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.”
Prosecutors say Johnson became obsessed with Barnes, texting her more than 1,000 times, but he claims he’s innocent. Now a new jury will decide his fate.
Phylicia Barnes’ mother and father both believe prosecutors charged the right man and they supported that prior verdict.
The trial is expected to last ten days.
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