BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Michael Johnson was acquitted Friday in the third Phylicia Barnes murder trial.
Johnson said nothing as he exited through the side entrance of the courthouse, giving cameras only a gesture as he drove away from his third and likely final trial.
After four weeks and more than two dozen state witnesses, the judge said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the 34-year-old.
Judge Charles Peters told the court, “The bottom line is there are far, far too many questions left unanswered about what happened to Ms. Barnes and how the defendant is connected to her murder.”
One of his Johnson’s attorneys cried after the ruling.
“We grieve for the Barnes family and this tragedy, but convicting an innocent man is not justice for Phylicia Barnes. We are grateful that this seven-year nightmare is over for Mr. Johnson and his family,” Katy O’Donnell said.
Johnson spent about three years in jail after being convicted at his first trial in 2013, which was eventually overturned.
Barnes, a 16-year-old honors student in North Carolina, was visiting her half-sister and Johnson’s ex-girlfriend in Baltimore when she vanished just after Christmas in 2010.
A desperate manhunt turned up nothing until months later when Barnes’ body surfaced in the Susquehanna River.
Barnes’ father was present in the early stages of the four-week trial, but not on Friday.
[Reporter: Do you feel the evidence is strong enough, are you still confident?]
“Always confident, always confident, always confident,” he said at the time.
Prosecutors declined to comment as they left the courthouse Friday afternoon.
Instead, Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby released the following statement regarding the acquittal:
“Since the inception of my administration, I swore to fight for 16-year old Phylicia Barnes who was murdered in 2010. And for the past 3 years, we’ve fought all the way to the state’s highest court and back. We never wavered in our pursuit of justice for the Barnes family and the innocent child that tragically lost her life. We believed, based in the evidence presented to us, that we were pursuing the individual responsible for her murder but the justice system has run its course and we must now respect the court’s decision. This outcome does not change the fact that the family of Phylicia Barnes has suffered a tremendous loss and we will continue to support them as they continue to grieve and cope with this difficult development.”
She added: “I am extremely disappointed by today’s decision, but the judicial process has played out and we have no choice but to follow that decision and to respect that decision.”
WJZ’s Kimberly Eiten contributed to this story.