Disturbing news began to make it’s rounds throughout social media today that Michael Johnson had been set free after all charges against him were dropped pertaining to the Phylicia Barnes murder case. Baltimore Circuit Court judge Anthony Howard dropped all charges against Johnson while he wrote that the case against Michael Johnson was “unarguably circumstantial” and while the case was in fact intriguing, it contained “no direct evidence” linking Johnson to the killing of Phylicia Barnes. The decision by judge Howard was the third and perhaps most crucial blow to prosecutors who argued that Johnson was in fact the child’s killer.
Johnson who has been locked up since his 2012 indictment was actually convicted of second degree murder in 2013, but that conviction was overturned by Circuit Court judge Alfred Nance, who rightfully granted Johnson a new trial after prosecutors failed to disclose to Johnson’s attorneys information which called a prosecution key witness testimony into question. James McCrae had told the court during Jonson’ first trial that he had been called to Deena Barnes’ apartment by Johnson, where he observed Phylicia’s dead body wrapped in sheets, and while Johnson had allegedly solicited his aid in discarding the 16 teen year old child’s body. The prosecution had information from Montgomery County officials that impeached McCrae’s testimony which he alleged that he was a witness for that jurisdiction in an unrelated criminal case. The information highlighted the fact that Montgomery officials revealed that McCrae was never used as a witness in any criminal cases for their county, because officials had raised credibility issues regarding his potential testimony.
This discovery established that McCrae had in fact lied on the witness stand during Michael Johnson’s first trial, but prosecutors failed to disclose such discovery to Johnson’s defense team, which left judge Nance no other recourse but to overturn the conviction to insure that Johnson received a fair trial as required by law. That blunder by the state prosecutors handling Johnson’s case was the first misstep in a child disappearance and subsequent murder case that had garnered National attention. The second error came when prosecutors attempted to play a wiretape conversation of Johnson. Judge Howard had previously ordered that a portion of the tape be redacted and not played before the jury. Prosecutors were suppose to have reportedly edited the tape to remove a portion per Howard’s direction, but when the tape was played before the jury, the supposed redaction was still on the tape and was played before the jury against the judge’s direction. Therefore, judge Howard declared a mistrial. Defense attorneys argued that the state had purposely muffed the tape to tank the case out of fear that they were going to lose.
The third and final blow came today when judge Howard ordered all charges dropped against Michael Johnson, which set the stage for his release late Tuesday evening. It’s a decision which has raised tremendous outrage from followers of the Barnes teen tragic story. State prosecutors have stated on the record that judge Howard doesn’t have the jurisdiction to drop the charges and have vowed to appeal. Meanwhile Johnson is free on the streets of Baltimore tonight, while no immediate reaction was obtained from the child’s family. TPC spoke briefly tonight with Shauntel Sallis, the older sister of Phylicia Barnes, and understandably she appeared devastated by the news out of Baltimore today. Shauntel stated that she was just trying to wrap her head around it all. She told TPC that she got the news when her mother Janice Mustafa telephoned her and told her about the court’s ruling today. The news is simply a gut wrenching reality that this family has to bare while continuing to seek justice for young Phylicia Barnes.
How Did This Happen
When news first broke that Michael Johnson had been set free, many began to question how this could have happened. Prosecutors had demonstrated during the trial that Johnson apparently was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the Barnes teen, and had text her over five thousand times in the previous six month before her disappearance. There was also a tape played before the jury which depicted Johnson, his younger brother, Deena Barnes, and young Phylicia streaking nude while engaged in “naked touching.” Prosecutors had claimed during his initial trial that Johnson was kissing Deena Barnes in the tape but clearly had his eyes set upon a naked young Phylicia Barnes. The state’ theory all along has been that Johnson became infatuated with the teen and pursued her sexually, strangled her which culminating in her death, and disposed of her body in the Susquehanna River in Northern Maryland..
Deena Barnes also testified in the first trial that she observed Michael Johnson touch Phylicia’s genital area, before the teen pushed his hand away. The older Barnes female drew strong criticism for allowing Johnson continued contact with the child after that incident. Deena’s account was just one of a volume of signs that indicated the child may have been at risk while she had contact with Johnson and other males related to him who frequented Deena Barnes’ apartment.. Shauntel Sallis had told investigators during the initial stages of her kid sister’ disappearance investigation, that Phylicia had advised her that Deena Barnes’ apartment had a high volume of traffic, that the door was always unlocked, and young men were coming and going all the time. Phylicia also advised her sister that one of the males made her nervous, that he kept staring at her, and that individual has always been suspected to be Michael Johnson.
While much of the evidence presented by the state in both trials were highly circumstantial, it all collectively painted a very intriguing image of Johnson related to his involvement and apparent inappropriate relationship with his girl friend’s younger half sister. Such interaction between Johnson and the Barnes teen should have been caught very early on when she began to make trips to Baltimore to visit her half siblings. Johnson’s involvement with the child is believed to be the very premise from which suspicion upon him derived. His communication with Phylicia coupled with being the last person to have allegedly saw her alive, creates a bonafide reason to add him into the fold of potential suspects who may be responsible for this promising child’s demise.
However, there has always been concern that the cops may have intentionally or otherwise muffed the case from the very start. Cops who were primary to the scene of Deena Barnes’ missing persons call to Baltimore Police when the child first went missing, were negligent in wrongfully characterizing Phylicia’s disappearance as a runaway case. Janice Sallis even spoke with primary police personnel and explained to them that her daughter wasn’t a troubled child, that she didn’t know anyone in Baltimore other than her half siblings, and that she was a very well adjusted child with no reason to run away. The child mother begged police to go out and search for her daughter, but her pleas were ignored, while six days elapsed before Baltimore police began to take Phylicia’s disappearance seriously. It was later discovered that a police supervisor related to Phylicia’s biological father (Russell Barnes’) side of her family showed up at the scene, questioned people, and may have directly impacted police actions who classified her disappearance as a runaway child case.
The trouble in the Phylicia Barnes murder case mystery didn’t just start there with potential inappropriate interference from the child’s family who just happened to also be Baltimore police, but the mothers of many of the young men frequenting Deena Barnes’ apartment were allegedly current and retired Baltimore Police officers. Additionally, sources tell TPC that the sister of Michael Johnson’s mother is in fact a Baltimore police detective in the exact same department that investigated Phylicia’s disappearance. All of these factors if determined to be factual, presents a very serious conflict of interest for investigators in the City police department. Fortunately, the Maryland state Police were charged with the murder investigation since her body was discovered in the Susquehanna River in Northern Maryland. A lot of the evidence that even the public knows should have been apart of the actual trials, were not even presented in court by state prosecutors.
Chiefly, much of the evidence that was brought to police attention by the public appeared to be the strongest asset for officials to determine what happened to young Phylicia. For example, the Barnes teen disappeared over the Christmas holiday back in 2010 on December 28. On approximately January 28, 2011 and exactly a month later, a girlfriend of one of the initial people (regulars who frequented Deena’s apartment) interviewed by Baltimore police, tweeted on social media “it’s trapped at the damn, don’t pull the lever.” The text became widely circulated on the internet and social media because the nude body of Phylicia Barnes was discovered nearly three months later near the Conowingo Dam in Harford County Maryland. TPC readers forwarded the tweet to this Blog’s administrator, and Maryland state police investigators were notified, but upon TPC’s contact with MSP, it was determined that police officials had already been made aware of the communication on social media.
It has never been established what if any momentum was gained by police investigators, after they had interviewed the young women who made the tweet, but many followers of this case were convinced that her comments regarding something being trapped at a dam, and coupled with her intimate association with an initial police interviewee, while he was also reportedly related to the man who last saw the child alive (Michael Johnson) is widely believed to not just be a mere coincidence. The fact that Phylicia Barnes was found deceased at a dam brings tremendous suspicion upon the young woman who made the twitter tweet, and points directly to members of the Johnson clan who were all continuously frequenting Deena’s apartment while Phylicia was staying there. Obviously, what ever happened to Phylicia had been talked about, and this young woman apparently had knowledge of details related to this information, when consideration is given to how she just so happened to coincidentally tweet about something being trapped at a dam months before the body of Phylicia Barnes was ever found there. The police’ inability to connect the dots with such an explosive piece of information surrounding the murder of Phylica Barnes is simply incredulous.
However, some people believe that the state prosecutors office never had any intentions on properly prosecuting Michael Johnson from the start. To begin with, the naming of Lisa Goldberg as the lead prosecutor was seen as troubling due to her storied past of having an inability to successfully prosecute defendants in high profile criminal cases. To many, Goldberg’s appointment to this case meant that the fix was in. Goldberg has lost other cases that many believe should easily have been won, and in some instances, even the defense council for defendants admitted that they believe their client should have been convicted of at least lesser crimes in cases prosecuted by Goldberg. Clearly Goldberg’s appointment to the Barnes case in the minds of some, meant that the state had tossed the case from the onset, primarily due to Goldberg’s perceived incompetence. This is a direct issue that TPC had warned Phylicia’s mother about during an interview she gave TPC around the time when Michael Johnson was first named as the defendant in this case.
The social political uniqueness and dynamics of the city of Baltimore creates a potentially troubling reality, which if properly investigated may yield serious conflict of interest related to prosecutors and Baltimore police officials who may have vested interest in seeing Johnson off the hook for the Barnes teen killing, because of his purported relationship to one of their own (his mother being a retired Baltimore Police). Is it the posture of TPC that there was in fact a conspiracy by law enforcement officials in Baltimore to let Johnson off the hook? Of course not, but it is in fact TPC’s position that the systemic cultural practice of policing in Baltimore may have led way to intentional lackluster prosecutorial performance in the Johnson case because his mother was a respected former Baltimore police who left the agency in good standing.
Without having to defend a police conspiracy theory, I’ll point out very troubling actions by state prosecutors in the Johnson criminal case. Why did the state put a known petty criminal on the stand during the first trial, who claim to have seen Phylicia’s dead body wrapped in sheets at Deena Barnes’ apartment, knowing that Montgomery County officials had already forwarded documents impeaching the completely bizarre, and quite frankly, entirely unbelievable story that prosecution witness James McCrae falsely testified to in open court. State prosecutors knew that Montgomery officials had completely destroyed their case by placing serious credibility issues upon their star witness, but they put him on the stand anyway knowing full well that documentation existed that would impeach what McCrae would tell the court. It was a tactic that was completely unfair to Michael Johnson’s defense, even if he is in fact guilty of killing Phylicia Barnes, state officials knew that such a gamble had the risk of having any conviction of Johnson overturned. By placing McCrae on the stand after having obtained such discovery of his credibility, Johnson’s initial conviction being overturned was rightfully, and completely justified by the court.
Also, other evidence generated by state police investigators were never utilized by state prosecutors. The twitter tweets which discussed something being trapped at a damn months before the Barnes teen body was found there, was compelling circumstantial evidence that rightfully placed suspicion upon the Johnson clan and potentially their girlfriends, who were all regulars that frequented Deena Barnes’ apartment during the time that Phylicia was staying there. The court transcripts in neither trial fail to reveal a motion or even discussion by either counsel regarding that information, and establishing that the jury was never made aware of such compelling communication surrounding Phylicia’s disappearance. Other information contained in Johnson clan members social media accounts depict a rather suspicion and interesting course of events around the critical hours of Phylicia’s disappearance. Again much of it circumstantial, but prosecutors never commanded police to diligently pursue these avenues of the investigation to enable state lawyers to pursue such angles in court.
Lastly, why would state prosecutors play a tape recording before the jury of such a high profile case and completely bungle the judge’s directive to have a portion of the tape redacted? Many are compelled to concur with the defense team’s assertion that the state purposefully played the tape in the manner in which they did, because they knew it would result in the judge declaring a mistrial. It is just simply hard to imagine that state prosecutors were either that careless or that incompetent. Their actions resulted in a mistrial, in a case that they were more than likely for all intent and purposes resolved at having lost. These factors pertaining to the Michael Johnson case at least, point to serious and questionable actions by Maryland state prosecutors who have conducted themselves in a fashion, that could easily be interpreted as officials having intentionally created errors which would result in favorable resolutions for Johnson’s defense.
At the end of the day Michael Johnson is in fact a relative of former and current Baltimore police officials. Whether that fact can prove to be a conflict which aided his successful defense of murder charges remains to be seen. There appeared to be tremendous discovery related to the killing of young Phylicia Simone Barnes, but unfortunately police and state prosecution officials appeared to be incompetent in delivering justice for such a promising young child. One constellation in it all does resound crystal clearly though, the charges were only dropped, and means if sufficient evidence ever arises again and proves Johnson was this precious child’s killer, the state could prosecute him again. As for whether TPC believes if Michael Johnson killed young Phylicia Barnes, can best be responded by pondering a simple rhetorical question. Would an innocent man falsely accused of murder plan or plot to flee the country to avoid prosecution?
To Be Continued ..
The People’s Champion
I’m David Adams