BALTIMORE -- Opening witnesses are expected to be called Monday in the murder trial of Michael Johnson, a 28-year-old accused of murdering Monroe teen Phylicia Barnes in December 2010.
Today’s testimony follows the disclosure Friday by prosecutors that a man will testify to having seen Barnes’ body in the apartment where she was last seen with Johnson. Defense attorneys dismissed the man’s testimony as unreliable.
Johnson, a 16-year-old senior at Union Academy in Monroe, went to Baltimore in December 2010 to spend the Christmas holidays with her half-sister, Deena Barnes. Also staying in the apartment was Johnson, who had been dating Deena for a number of years.
Phylicia Barnes was last seen Dec. 28, 2010. A lengthy search by a number of law enforcement agencies failed to turn up any evidence of the teen, but her body was found floating in the Susquehanna River, about 50 miles north of Baltimore, in April 2011.
Johnson was charged last April with murdering Phylicia Barnes. Prosecutors say the teen was asphyxiated, and prosecutors said in pre-trial hearings that a witness will testify to having seen Johnson struggling to drag a 35-gallon tub out of the apartment on Dec. 28, 2010.
In Friday’s opening arguments, State’s Attorney Lisa Goldberg said prosecution will show a video, made June 13, 2010 and recorded on Deena Barnes’ phone, that shows five people -- Deena and Phylicia Barnes, along with Michael Johnson and two of his brothers -- taking off their clothes and engaging in what Goldberg said was “naked touching and kissing.”
Goldberg said Friday the video shows Johnson touching Deena Barnes but looking at Phylicia, and the prosecutor said that moment showed Johnson “was now interested in (Deena’s) sister.”
In the six months between when the video was made and Phylicia Barnes went to Baltimore, prosecutors said, Johnson sent the Monroe teen about 1,300 text messages.
Russell Neverdon, one of four attorneys representing Johnson, said prosecutors have rushed to judgment against Johnson. In pre-trial arguments, the defense team alleged that the lead detective in the case was dealing with personal problems, which, they said, tarnished the investigation.
Goldberg also disclosed Friday that James McCray, who is now in jail after a conviction in an unrelated case, will testify that he saw Barnes’ body in the apartment. McCray came forward with his story after Johnson was arrested last April.
Neverdon dismissed McCray as a credible witness, saying he “can’t tell Michael Johnson from Michael Jordan.”