Trial begins in Phylicia Barnes slaying case

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:48 PM

The trial of Michael Maurice Johnson, the man charged with killing Phylicia Barnes, began in Baltimore Circuit Court Tuesday.

Johnson has pleaded not guilty to killing 16-year-old Barnes, a Monroe native and then-senior at Union Academy.

Judge Alfred Nance refused to allow reporters in court on Tuesday for jury selection, saying space was needed for a large pool of potential jurors.

Barnes disappeared Dec. 28, 2010 while visiting her father's family in Baltimore for the Christmas holidays. She was staying with her half-sister, Deena Barnes, who lived off Reisterstown Road near Pikesville. Johnson, her ex-boyfriend, lived there with her.

When Deena returned home from work that day, she found Barnes missing. Deena and her sister, Kelly, reported the teen's disappearance to police.

Johnson was the last person to see Barnes, according to Baltimore Police. Investigators stated that Johnson said Barnes left the apartment at about noon on the 28th to buy food from across the street. She apparently left cash and a credit card behind in the apartment. Authorities feared she was abducted.

In Monroe, Union Academy students and staff wore purple ribbons and held prayer vigils. Membership swelled quickly in a Facebook group sharing the search for Barnes. Union Academy and other groups collected a $40,000 reward for Barnes' safe return. Numerous volunteers, including the Baltimore Guardian Angels, joined Barnes' parents in a sweep of Baltimore streets for information about the teen's whereabouts. The search attracted national attention. Detectives used bloodhounds, fliers, billboards and national media outlets to solicit information about Barnes.

In January, Johnson hired an attorney. Baltimore Police stated he was not identified a suspect. Barnes's mother, Janice Mustafa, said she suspected Johnson knew more about the girl's disapparance. She also learned that Kelly and Deena exposed Barnes to alcohol, drugs and had strange men who visited the apartment, she said.

Months passed without substantial leads.

On April 20, 2011, her naked body was found in the Susquehanna River near the Conowingo Dam about 40 miles north of Baltimore on the Maryland/Delaware border. A second body was found, but police stated it was unrelated to Barnes' disappearance. An autopsy revealed the cause of death, but Baltimore Police withheld the information while they searched for a suspect.

Johnson was indicted in April on one count of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Johnson killed Barnes in her sister's apartment and then used a 35-gallon tub to move the body. Johnson's attorneys argued that the state was desperate for a suspect and Johnson made a convenient target.

Evidence in the case is expected to include a video that shows the defendant, victims and others engaged in sexual conduct.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.