New trial ordered in Phylicia Barnes murder
A judge ordered a new trial Wednesday for a Baltimore man convicted in the death of a North Carolina honors students, ruling that prosecutors withheld evidence about their key witness.
Circuit Judge Alfred Nance said "that while a defendant is not guaranteed a perfect trial, he is guaranteed a fair trial."
Michael Johnson, 29, was convicted in the death of Phylicia Barnes, 16, who was missing for months before her body was found in a river. He had been scheduled for sentencing Wednesday and faced up to 30 years.
The ruling involved James McCray, 36, who testified that Johnson called him for help in getting rid of Barnes' body. The judge ruled prosecutors should have told defense attorneys that they decided not to press charges against McCray after he met with a detective.
Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein said his office planned to retry Johnson.
"We are disappointed in the judge's decision, but we look forward to the new trial in which we will be able to present the evidence and testimony we believe establishes the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," Bernstein said in a statement.
Jurors deliberated for three days before convicting Johnson of second-degree murder last month. They acquitted him of first-degree murder.
Barnes disappeared while visiting her family during the 2010 Christmas holidays and her body was found months later floating in the Susquehanna River. Prosecutors said Johnson killed the Monroe, N.C., teenager in her sister's apartment and then used a 35-gallon tub to move the body.
The defense noted during the trial that McCray has a fourth-grade education.
The defense claimed three violations of the Supreme Court's 1963 Brady ruling that prosecutors must disclose all evidence favorable to the defendant when asked to do so. Johnson's lawyers claimed prosecutors suppressed that McCray was incarcerated when Johnson's arrest was made public; prosecutors didn't disclose that they decided the day after a detective spoke with McCray about the case not to prosecute McCray; and that the state failed to disclose notes by the detective explaining the link between the defendant and the witness. The judge said the state did disclose the notes, but the other two claims were violations of the Brady ruling.
A telephone call and email by The Associated Press seeking comment from Johnson's attorney were not immediately returned.