Michael Maurice Johnson remained free after a court hearing Thursday that was marked by procedural confusion about his re-indictment on charges that he killed Union County teenager Phylicia Barnes.
Circuit Court Judge Michael DiPietro in Baltimore declined to rule on a motion by Johnson’s attorneys to dismiss the indictment, and also declined to hear prosecutors’ argument that bail should be set. He told the attorneys those requests would be ruled on at a later date.
Barnes was 16 when she disappeared while visiting her sister in Baltimore in 2010. Johnson was the longtime boyfriend of Barnes’ sister and is the last person known to have seen Barnes alive, authorities say. The teen’s body was found four months later.
Johnson was acquitted of second-degree murder after a mistrial in January – his second time facing trial in the killing. But city prosecutors believe the judge’s ruling was invalid and earlier this month charged Johnson again.
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Johnson’s attorneys say the case is a clear example of double jeopardy, and hoped to get the case dismissed Thursday. Defense attorney Katy O’Donnell told DiPietro that the re-indictment was “truly an abuse of the judicial process” and was “done for political reasons.”
Prosecutors, meanwhile, were stymied in their attempt to have a bail set for Johnson. After Johnson was indicted by a grand jury, prosecutors sought an arrest warrant but it was denied by Circuit Court Judge Timothy Doory, who instead issued a summons. That means Johnson is under no pretrial conditions set by the court – a rare circumstance for someone charged with murder.
Assistant State’s Attorney Lisa Goldberg asked DiPietro to set bail, and she and Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow went back and forth with DiPietro about whether such a hearing should occur without prosecutors first filing a motion.
Goldberg said “usually” a discussion about whether to set bail is conducted at a defendant’s first appearance, to which O’Donnell shot back that there was “nothing usual with respect to the circumstances here today.”
“This is something we don’t see every day, I agree,” DiPietro said, asking prosecutors to file a written request for a bail to be set.