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A Flower In The River: Justice Continues To Elude Mustafa Family Nearly Three Years After The Pretty Monroe Teen Went Missing

A Continued Series On the Murder of Phylicia Barnes

 

If someone would have told me that the murder case of Phylicia Barnes would span several years I would not have believed them. Sadly though, nearly three years after the book smart country girl from rural North Carolina went missing, her case continues to make it’s rounds through the Baltimore City Circuit Court System. The case has been listed in the Maryland Judicial Case Docket with a November 7, 2013 retrial date, and not the anticipated October 1, 2013 date previously listed. Rumors have circulated that defense counsel Russell Neverdon will no longer be representing Michael Johnson during his 2nd Degree Murder retrial for killing young Phylicia Barnes. There has also been speculation that Johnson will now be represented by a Public Defender (state paid attorney). The case file doesn’t have any new defense attorneys listed as having entered their appearance in the case, but the recent postponement more than likely centers around Neverdon’s recent public announcement that he will be running for the Baltimore City State’ Attorney post, and Johnson’s new legal counsel may have filed the motion for a new court date to allow the defense an opportunity to get up to speed on the merits of the case.

The current delay in court proceedings only compounds the frustrations of the murdered teen’s family and those within the public who have been following her tragic story. The jurors in Johnson’s first trial did their job by rendering a verdict of guilty on the count of 2nd degree murder, but shenanigans by state prosecutors set the stage for Johnson’s conviction to be overturned by a Circuit Court Judge who not only appeared to be eager to set the Barnes teen accused murderer free, but made his displeasure with the state’ case known in open court by chastising prosecutors for his personal perception of a weak case against Johnson. Nance’s comments were highly irregular for a sitting Circuit Court judge and caused many to question his objectivity while presiding over the case.

Judge Alfred Nance ripped into state attorney Lisa Goldberg before the case went into deliberations, citing that he believed the state had built a case against Johnson based on a theory with mostly circumstantial evidence. Nance fell just short of granting the defense’ motion to have the case tossed, but cited that the case should go to the jury. The defense won a reprieve when the state’ star witness James McCray lied on the stand about having testified in an unrelated homicide case. Prosecutors were aware that evidence had surfaced impeaching McCray’s testimony, but for some unknown reason the state failed to follow established discovery laws. State law requires prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence against a defendant, by not doing so violated Johnson’s constitutional rights, and judge Nance ruled that “while the defendant isn’t guaranteed a perfect trial, he is entitled to a fair one” striking down Johnson’s conviction.

Misconduct by prosecutors related to the McCray witness isn’t the only eyebrow raising issue with the state’ case. The state actually rolled the dice on this witness and it became apparent when McCray testified that Johnson summonsed him to the teen’s older half sibling’s apartment soliciting help disposing of her body. McCray testified that Johnson admitted to him that he had strangled the child after he raped her and he couldn’t get her to stop crying. Prosecutors believed that McCray’s testimony would be powerful because he stated that he observed the teen’s dead body wrapped in sheets at the apartment. On cross examination the defense quizzed McCray on his memory pertaining to the actual date of his allege encounter with Johnson. When McCray testified that Johnson had called him for help prior to Christmas, the defense poignantly exclaimed “no further questions” to highlight that McCray’s testimony was suspect considering that Barnes had gone missing after Christmas on December 28, 2010.

The obvious inconsistency in McCray’s testimony pointed to serious credibility issues in the eyes of many, but others highlight the fact that despite the conflict in McCray’s testimony on that issue, the state’ allegations charging that Johnson strangled the child, stripped her of her clothing (to avoid possible forensic evidence detection), and disposed of her body in water, is precisely and very consistent with the details McCray testified to in open court surrounding the instructions and advice McCray said he gave Johnson. McCray’s testimony is identical to what prosecutors claim Johnson had committed when he killed the the girl. The state avoided tons of other evidence which not only pointed to the culpability of Johnson, but others related to him possible involvement at the very least in conspiring to cover up the child’s murder.

The state missed or ignored valuable evidence that pointed to involvement by others, and even possibly another scenario altogether of how the teen was murdered and disposed of. It has been proven at the very least, Johnson family members and friends had discussed among themselves what happened to Phylicia Barnes, and was even discretely mentioned on social media. A girlfriend of Johnson’s cousin tweeted on January 28, 2010 “it’s trapped at the dam, don’t pull the lever”, a shocking revelation which occurred months before the teen’s nude body was discovered at the Conowingo Dam in Northern Maryland. That information was given to the Maryland State Police from the public, and even prompted authorities to question the young woman regarding her comment on twitter. The state chose not to utilize that information as part of evidence in the trial for some strange reason.

Perhaps the argument could be made that judge Nance refused to allow the comment in court because the state failed to connect the tweet to Johnson, but it’s a no brainer that Johnson’s relative, one of the initial people questioned by police during the beginning of the Barnes teen disappearance investigation, more than likely had advanced information regarding what happened to Barnes. The connection is that the young woman and the Johnson cousin were regulars at Phylicia’s older half sibling’s apartment around the time the child had gone missing. It’s confusing how that information doesn’t get in the trial when it’s very compelling that the woman obviously knew where Barnes’ body was months before the cops found her floating in a river near a dam. There were also other tweets and comments on social media that painted a disturbing picture of who may have been involved in Barnes’ murder, and the police’s inability to connect the dots related to much of that extremely revealing and telling information is simply very poor police investigative work.

However, there may be other factors which could have created bias by police and judge Nance regarding the manner in which many of these suspicious and problematic issues failed to ever reach inclusion of the state’ summation of their charges against Johnson. Johnson whose mother is a Baltimore City Police Officer, and Deena Barnes who was responsible for taking care of Phylicia while she stayed in Baltimore, also has a relative who is a city police officer as well. In fact, the Barnes relative working for Baltimore police showed up at the apartment the day Phylicia was reported missing and began to conduct an unofficial investigation by questioning people. It’s very compelling that the officer’s presence at the scene of the missing person call may have been crucial in avoiding the Barnes teen disappearance having been taken seriously.

There were a volume of lies that were initially told to police during the early hours of Phylicia’s disappearance. Chiefly the fabricated story that Phylicia had gone to get something to eat and probably would be coming back to the apartment shortly. Many of the lies which that were told became unraveled during the trial when the teen’s half sibling had to admit that she gave her kid sister alcohol and marijuana (facts that she repeatedly lied about to the child’s mother, and various media organizations), allowed her to run around intoxicated completely nude with her boyfriend and other males, and that she had even witnessed Johnson attempting to fondle Phylicia in her presence. Th older half sibling’s failure to convey to police at the very least, what she had previously witnessed Johnson attempt to do to Phylica, is highly probable that the investigation may have been directed toward Johnson as a suspect early on, and may have also resulted in the child being found alive.

The Barnes relative who is a police officer may have went into protect mode simply looking out for the best interest of his niece, Deena Barnes. The presence of a police officer who just also happens to be related to people involved in a potential crime, has a very powerful persuasion upon police actively working a potential criminal case. It’s an obvious conflict of interest that should also been entered into the trial proceedings. The volume of missteps by the state is too convenient and coincidental considering police culture and the dynamics of the Baltimore City Criminal Justice process.

There are so many inter twined elements of this case which calculate to clear injustice for Phylicia Simone Barnes’ memory and her grieving family, and it’s also an unfortunate and unfair bi-product of a storied but troubled criminal justice system where murderers walk free on a regular basis in an extremely violent city. Those within the community who know how the system works in Baltimore and have their blinders off, can see clearly that the shuffling and juggling of the Michael Johnson murder case may be by design. With Johnson now possibly being represented by a Public Defender, it may spell trouble for those seeking justice in this promising kid’s murder case. Johnson will not have the luxury of lawyers utilizing resources to conduct independent investigations into forensics and other pertinent aspects of the case, but depending on his PD’s case load he may benefit from a overwhelmed court docket, and his counsel may be priming state prosecutors for a plea deal. In many instances State Public Defenders are consumed by a bolstering docket which results in brokered deals which allow some defendants in serious crimes to plea to a lesser included offense.

Johnson would only serve 25 years if convicted of 2nd degree murder, creating the possibility that because of his youth he may very well walk the streets again one day. The state failed to convict him of the most serious charge of 1st degree murder. He was acquitted of that charge and can’t be retried again on that count due to double jeopardy laws. Johnson could realistic plea down to Manslaughter and only serve 10-15 years in prison, and once he is adjudicated by prison officials on his conduct while incarcerated, Johnson could earn time off of his sentence for good behavior (11 days off of 30 in the Maryland Division of Corrections). In short, if he behaves himself while locked up he could only do 6-7 years of real jail time and win his release on early parole.

It’s a horrible scenario to consider when we digest the fact that a beautiful promising kid was killed for no other reason than the fact she trusted those around her who were suppose to protect her. It’s unimaginable that her case could have digressed to the disturbing possibilities that may result in this case. I can’t help but wonder if  family ties to police in the city of Baltimore has aided Johnson in his attempt to elude justice in the killing of Phylicia Barnes, and then again I can’t help but to wonder if justice will ever come at all in this case. A sad commentary on the inequities of justice for a pretty little girl snatched out of this world from us forever.

 

Part III of a series

To Be Continued …

 

 

The People’s Champion

I’m David Adams

 

 

David Adams

Self proclaimed geek, Advocate for the homeless, Social Change, Crime Blogger, and mobile technology enthusiast. A recognized Journalist and Human Interest Writer championing the plight of the masses whom are without a voice of their own.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus

A Continued Series On the Murder of Phylicia Barnes

 

If someone would have told me that the murder case of Phylicia Barnes would span several years I would not have believed them. Sadly though, nearly three years after the book smart country girl from rural North Carolina went missing, her case continues to make it’s rounds through the Baltimore City Circuit Court System. The case has been listed in the Maryland Judicial Case Docket with a November 7, 2013 retrial date, and not the anticipated October 1, 2013 date previously listed. Rumors have circulated that defense counsel Russell Neverdon will no longer be representing Michael Johnson during his 2nd Degree Murder retrial for killing young Phylicia Barnes. There has also been speculation that Johnson will now be represented by a Public Defender (state paid attorney). The case file doesn’t have any new defense attorneys listed as having entered their appearance in the case, but the recent postponement more than likely centers around Neverdon’s recent public announcement that he will be running for the Baltimore City State’ Attorney post, and Johnson’s new legal counsel may have filed the motion for a new court date to allow the defense an opportunity to get up to speed on the merits of the case.

The current delay in court proceedings only compounds the frustrations of the murdered teen’s family and those within the public who have been following her tragic story. The jurors in Johnson’s first trial did their job by rendering a verdict of guilty on the count of 2nd degree murder, but shenanigans by state prosecutors set the stage for Johnson’s conviction to be overturned by a Circuit Court Judge who not only appeared to be eager to set the Barnes teen accused murderer free, but made his displeasure with the state’ case known in open court by chastising prosecutors for his personal perception of a weak case against Johnson. Nance’s comments were highly irregular for a sitting Circuit Court judge and caused many to question his objectivity while presiding over the case.

Judge Alfred Nance ripped into state attorney Lisa Goldberg before the case went into deliberations, citing that he believed the state had built a case against Johnson based on a theory with mostly circumstantial evidence. Nance fell just short of granting the defense’ motion to have the case tossed, but cited that the case should go to the jury. The defense won a reprieve when the state’ star witness James McCray lied on the stand about having testified in an unrelated homicide case. Prosecutors were aware that evidence had surfaced impeaching McCray’s testimony, but for some unknown reason the state failed to follow established discovery laws. State law requires prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence against a defendant, by not doing so violated Johnson’s constitutional rights, and judge Nance ruled that “while the defendant isn’t guaranteed a perfect trial, he is entitled to a fair one” striking down Johnson’s conviction.

Misconduct by prosecutors related to the McCray witness isn’t the only eyebrow raising issue with the state’ case. The state actually rolled the dice on this witness and it became apparent when McCray testified that Johnson summonsed him to the teen’s older half sibling’s apartment soliciting help disposing of her body. McCray testified that Johnson admitted to him that he had strangled the child after he raped her and he couldn’t get her to stop crying. Prosecutors believed that McCray’s testimony would be powerful because he stated that he observed the teen’s dead body wrapped in sheets at the apartment. On cross examination the defense quizzed McCray on his memory pertaining to the actual date of his allege encounter with Johnson. When McCray testified that Johnson had called him for help prior to Christmas, the defense poignantly exclaimed “no further questions” to highlight that McCray’s testimony was suspect considering that Barnes had gone missing after Christmas on December 28, 2010.

The obvious inconsistency in McCray’s testimony pointed to serious credibility issues in the eyes of many, but others highlight the fact that despite the conflict in McCray’s testimony on that issue, the state’ allegations charging that Johnson strangled the child, stripped her of her clothing (to avoid possible forensic evidence detection), and disposed of her body in water, is precisely and very consistent with the details McCray testified to in open court surrounding the instructions and advice McCray said he gave Johnson. McCray’s testimony is identical to what prosecutors claim Johnson had committed when he killed the the girl. The state avoided tons of other evidence which not only pointed to the culpability of Johnson, but others related to him possible involvement at the very least in conspiring to cover up the child’s murder.

The state missed or ignored valuable evidence that pointed to involvement by others, and even possibly another scenario altogether of how the teen was murdered and disposed of. It has been proven at the very least, Johnson family members and friends had discussed among themselves what happened to Phylicia Barnes, and was even discretely mentioned on social media. A girlfriend of Johnson’s cousin tweeted on January 28, 2010 “it’s trapped at the dam, don’t pull the lever”, a shocking revelation which occurred months before the teen’s nude body was discovered at the Conowingo Dam in Northern Maryland. That information was given to the Maryland State Police from the public, and even prompted authorities to question the young woman regarding her comment on twitter. The state chose not to utilize that information as part of evidence in the trial for some strange reason.

Perhaps the argument could be made that judge Nance refused to allow the comment in court because the state failed to connect the tweet to Johnson, but it’s a no brainer that Johnson’s relative, one of the initial people questioned by police during the beginning of the Barnes teen disappearance investigation, more than likely had advanced information regarding what happened to Barnes. The connection is that the young woman and the Johnson cousin were regulars at Phylicia’s older half sibling’s apartment around the time the child had gone missing. It’s confusing how that information doesn’t get in the trial when it’s very compelling that the woman obviously knew where Barnes’ body was months before the cops found her floating in a river near a dam. There were also other tweets and comments on social media that painted a disturbing picture of who may have been involved in Barnes’ murder, and the police’s inability to connect the dots related to much of that extremely revealing and telling information is simply very poor police investigative work.

However, there may be other factors which could have created bias by police and judge Nance regarding the manner in which many of these suspicious and problematic issues failed to ever reach inclusion of the state’ summation of their charges against Johnson. Johnson whose mother is a Baltimore City Police Officer, and Deena Barnes who was responsible for taking care of Phylicia while she stayed in Baltimore, also has a relative who is a city police officer as well. In fact, the Barnes relative working for Baltimore police showed up at the apartment the day Phylicia was reported missing and began to conduct an unofficial investigation by questioning people. It’s very compelling that the officer’s presence at the scene of the missing person call may have been crucial in avoiding the Barnes teen disappearance having been taken seriously.

There were a volume of lies that were initially told to police during the early hours of Phylicia’s disappearance. Chiefly the fabricated story that Phylicia had gone to get something to eat and probably would be coming back to the apartment shortly. Many of the lies which that were told became unraveled during the trial when the teen’s half sibling had to admit that she gave her kid sister alcohol and marijuana (facts that she repeatedly lied about to the child’s mother, and various media organizations), allowed her to run around intoxicated completely nude with her boyfriend and other males, and that she had even witnessed Johnson attempting to fondle Phylicia in her presence. Th older half sibling’s failure to convey to police at the very least, what she had previously witnessed Johnson attempt to do to Phylica, is highly probable that the investigation may have been directed toward Johnson as a suspect early on, and may have also resulted in the child being found alive.

The Barnes relative who is a police officer may have went into protect mode simply looking out for the best interest of his niece, Deena Barnes. The presence of a police officer who just also happens to be related to people involved in a potential crime, has a very powerful persuasion upon police actively working a potential criminal case. It’s an obvious conflict of interest that should also been entered into the trial proceedings. The volume of missteps by the state is too convenient and coincidental considering police culture and the dynamics of the Baltimore City Criminal Justice process.

There are so many inter twined elements of this case which calculate to clear injustice for Phylicia Simone Barnes’ memory and her grieving family, and it’s also an unfortunate and unfair bi-product of a storied but troubled criminal justice system where murderers walk free on a regular basis in an extremely violent city. Those within the community who know how the system works in Baltimore and have their blinders off, can see clearly that the shuffling and juggling of the Michael Johnson murder case may be by design. With Johnson now possibly being represented by a Public Defender, it may spell trouble for those seeking justice in this promising kid’s murder case. Johnson will not have the luxury of lawyers utilizing resources to conduct independent investigations into forensics and other pertinent aspects of the case, but depending on his PD’s case load he may benefit from a overwhelmed court docket, and his counsel may be priming state prosecutors for a plea deal. In many instances State Public Defenders are consumed by a bolstering docket which results in brokered deals which allow some defendants in serious crimes to plea to a lesser included offense.

Johnson would only serve 25 years if convicted of 2nd degree murder, creating the possibility that because of his youth he may very well walk the streets again one day. The state failed to convict him of the most serious charge of 1st degree murder. He was acquitted of that charge and can’t be retried again on that count due to double jeopardy laws. Johnson could realistic plea down to Manslaughter and only serve 10-15 years in prison, and once he is adjudicated by prison officials on his conduct while incarcerated, Johnson could earn time off of his sentence for good behavior (11 days off of 30 in the Maryland Division of Corrections). In short, if he behaves himself while locked up he could only do 6-7 years of real jail time and win his release on early parole.

It’s a horrible scenario to consider when we digest the fact that a beautiful promising kid was killed for no other reason than the fact she trusted those around her who were suppose to protect her. It’s unimaginable that her case could have digressed to the disturbing possibilities that may result in this case. I can’t help but wonder if  family ties to police in the city of Baltimore has aided Johnson in his attempt to elude justice in the killing of Phylicia Barnes, and then again I can’t help but to wonder if justice will ever come at all in this case. A sad commentary on the inequities of justice for a pretty little girl snatched out of this world from us forever.

 

Part III of a series

To Be Continued …

 

 

The People’s Champion

I’m David Adams

 

 

David Adams

Self proclaimed geek, Advocate for the homeless, Social Change, Crime Blogger, and mobile technology enthusiast. A recognized Journalist and Human Interest Writer championing the plight of the masses whom are without a voice of their own.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus

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