There is just a little over three weeks before Michael Johnson faces a Baltimore District Court on charges that alleges he killed 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes. This highly anticipated murder case is just in the beginning stages of its process, and what remains to be seen is hard evidence supporting the state’s claim that the Monroe, N.C. honors teen was strangled or suffocated at the hands of the child’s older half-sister’s boyfriend. Prosecutors revealed during a previous court appearance that Michael Johnson was the last person who saw the child alive, that he was seen struggling to carry a large tub (big enough to carry a person the child’s size) out of Deena Barnes’ Northwest Baltimore apartment around the time he alleges he last saw her, and that the state believes Michael killed Phylicia at that location. Although the state has remained extremely tight-lipped about the case, many are praying that the case against Johnson bares more culpable evidence against him as the case progresses through the process. So far what the public has learned is no smoking gun. These limited details depicting how Johnson supposedly killed the child are mere circumstantial, and may not even pass the standard which is required to forward the case to the Circuit Court of Baltimore. The state has to convince the presiding judge that there is more than enough evidence to send the case to trial. Barring solid evidence implicating Michael Johnson’s direct involvement in this murder could result in a jury never even being seated for the pretty little girl’s murder case, and Johnson could walk on June 28, 2012 which is his next scheduled court date. Unless there is DNA evidence that exist pointing to Johnson, eye-witness accounts, or other forensics that would point to incriminating evidence against him, the state’s case just may fall flat. This is just simply a bitter pill to swallow considering Baltimore’s record regarding murder cases that have slipped through the cracks because of the lack of rudimentary evidence that must arrive beyond a reasonable doubt for a sworn jury to come back with a conviction. Sadly though, it’s not even iron clad that good evidence would even seal the deal for the state when we consider the history of Baltimore juries. One hurdle the state must climb is explaining the text messages between the Barnes teen and Johnson which exceeds 500. The defense will most certainly argue that the teen had a close relationship with Johnson, and the nude photos of the child streaking nude with Johnson and others, only serves to garner momentum for his defense, because some say it shows just how intimate or close of a relationship that existed between them, and just may imply that it’s doubtful that Johnson had motive to kill the child. However, despite these perspectives from some people, the child’s mother and others from within the public believe that the child was exploited by her own half-sister, and that their relationship took a turn for the worst when Deena Barnes exposed the child to a culture that permitted Johnson and others to see the pretty little girl completely nude which just may have led to motive for Johnson and others to aggressively pursue Phylicia sexually. Unfortunately, that state must prove that Johnson desired Phylicia sexually, or some other motive existed for him to want to harm the child. Janice Sallis-Mustafa has already expressed that Johnson raped her daughter by stating, “why else would he kill her”? There must be something else out there that exist for a state convened Grand Jury to decide on an indictment of Johnson in the Barnes murder case. I just don’t see the state jumping from a seemingly cold case posture to deciding that Michael Johnson is the killer. What do they have, because what we know so far doesn’t prove anything other that circumstantial facts, and to convict Johnson of murder the state needs more than him struggling with a large tub, and 500 text messages to convict him. So it will be very interesting to see other details emerge that will actually establish Johnson as the killer. In fact the state’s case appeared to suffer a blow before it was even made public that Johnson would be charged for the Barnes teen murder. The Lead investigator in the case had recently been suspended for misconduct related to a similar case involving his own daughter prior to the arrest of Johnson. Daniel Thomas Nicholson IV, had been the lead investigator on the case of Phylicia Barnes until allegations surfaced that he used his badge to enter homes while off duty to search for his daughter who had run away from home. His misconduct debacle just may have been a factor in Johnson being charged in a seemingly hurried fashion. Some say his departmental issues could potentially hurt the Barnes case as his character and credibility just might weigh heavy on the jury, which is an ingredient for failure when considering the case would be heard in front of a Baltimore Jury. Nicholson is also reportedly facing criminal domestic violence charges, that claim he assaulted his daughter at his Baltimore County home. The news of these details adds an even more awkward element to a case that city police officials have already said was a “very complexing case ” in which they have encountered in recent memory. It’s a tremendous blow to the state’s case because Nicholson will more than likely have to take the stand and testify at the Johnson trial. Moreover, just when it appeared that the Barnes case had hit its lowest, Baltimore’s State Attorney appointed one of the weakest prosecutors in the business to try the Barnes murder case. For some reason State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein has entrusted this case to one of his least effective trial attorneys, one who has long lacked a reputation for hard work. It’s the same prosecutor who lost the case against Eric Stennett for murdering Police Officer Kevon Gavin in 2001. After fleeing the scene of a shooting, Stennett sped through city streets at 80 m.p.h. and crashed into Gavin’s police cruiser, causing a fiery, fatal explosion. While there were multiple problems with how the police handled evidence in the shooting and crash, even the defense attorney conceded that Stennett was at least guilty of manslaughter in the officer’s death. But the jury acquitted him completely, stunning everyone. More recently, in 2010, the same prosecutor tried a murder case against a city police officer who shot a fleeing theft suspect in the back. Another acquittal. With this prosecutor’s dismal record in high-profile cases , Bernstein is taking a big chance. Maybe he expects that Phylicia Barnes is so sympathetic a victim that a jury will be loath to let her accused murderer go, whoever prosecutes. Many have asked why Berstein is taking such a huge risk with such sketchy evidence the state has offered thus far. Followers of this case should dig in for a long ride for a case that has played out in the typical fashion that only Baltimore City can produce. If Johnson walks it would be even more tragic than the circumstances that resulted in the lost of such a promising child. We pray for justice for her and the Mustafa Family, and the day of resolution is approaching. Will the state let us all down? We can only wait now for the process to take its course. May God be with us all!
The People’s Champion
I’m David Adams