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New Indictment, Same Suspect, In Phylicia Barnes Case

P. Kenneth Burns

Baltimore Prosecutors announced Tuesday a new indictment against Michael Johnson in the murder of Phylicia Barnes.

Barnes, 16, from Monroe, N.C., went missing while visiting family in the city in late December 2010.  Her body was found in the Susquehanna River four months later.

Johnson, 30, is now facing trial for the third time in the killing.  A Baltimore Circuit jury convicted him of second degree murder in 2013 but Judge Alfred Nance overturned that verdict because prosecutors did not share information about a key witness with defense attorneys. 

During the second trial last December, prosecutors played part of a phone call jurors were not supposed to hear and Judge John Howard declared a mistrial. He acquitted Johnson one month later, ruling that the state had insufficient evidence.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Tuesday Howard did not have the authority to acquit Johnson.

“Case law supports our position that once a motion for mistrial is granted, the proceedings are concluded,” said Mosby. Because the proceedings were concluded before the acquittal, she argued, double jeopardy, which forbids defendants who have been acquitted from being tried twice for the same crime, does not apply.

She said she decided to seek a second indictment after consulting the Attorney General’s Office. Lawyers there advised her she did not have a direct way to appeal Howard’s decision and that a new indictment was the best way to bring the case back to court.

“Putting it simply, we are now putting this case back in the same posture that we were in after the mistrial was granted,” She added.

Prosecutors asked for a warrant for Johnson’s arrest, but a summons was issued instead.