An appeals court in Maryland has reinstated charges and ordered a new trial for the Baltimore man accused of killing North Carolina teenager Phylicia Barnes in 2010, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The three-judge panel on the Court of Special Appeals said Circuit Court Judge John Addison Howard made a procedural mistake in January 2015 when he acquitted Michael Johnson of the 16-year-old's murder, the newspaper reported.
Barnes’ case riveted the Charlotte region after her disappearance around Christmas in 2010 and prompted one of the most expansive searches in the history of the Baltimore Police Department. The disappearance of Barnes, who was black, also stoked a national debate about whether missing children of color get the same attention as whites.
Barnes, an honor student at Union Academy Charter School, had reconnected with family via Facebook and was staying with her older half sister, Deena, in Maryland. Johnson was Deena Barnes’ longtime boyfriend and is the last person known to have seen the teenager alive, authorities say.
Phylicia Barnes’ body was found naked and floating near the Conowingo Dam in Maryland four months after she disappeared.
The case against Johnson drew national attention, but was characterized as weak. One previous conviction has been overturned, a key witness was discredited and a mistrial was declared after prosecutors played a wiretap conversation that had been deemed inadmissable.
On Wednesday, prosecutors said they planned to try the case again, which could mean another airing of the lurid details of the the teen’s relationship with Johnson.
At a party in June 2010, prosecutors have said, Johnson and the teenage girl went streaking, then, along with Johnson’s younger brother and Deena Barnes, retreated to a field where a fifth person filmed the four engaged in "naked touching." That video was played for jurors at both previous trials, with prosecutors theorizing that it represented a turn in the brother/sisterlike relationship.
Meanwhile, Johnson's 10-year relationship with Deena Barnes had been crumbling, according to prosecutors. Johnson had said that on the morning of the girl's disappearance, he had gone to Deena's apartment to gather some belongings to move out, and later called out of work.
A neighbor said he saw Johnson struggling to move a plastic storage container out of the apartment, and prosecutors alleged Phylicia's body was inside. Goldberg claimed Johnson showed little interest upon hearing the news that the girl was missing.
Defense attorneys said Johnson cooperated with police and offered to help in the search until he was asked to stay away. Cellphone GPS records that trace his movements did not show him traveling anywhere near the Susquehanna in Harford County, where the teen's body was found in April 2011.