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Murder of Phylicia Barnes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The murder of Phylicia Barnes is believed to have occurred in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, on December 28, 2010, in relation to a crime. Her body was recovered in the Susquehanna River on April 20, 2011, following a series of searches and national media coverage from various outlets, including The Today Show. The investigation into her death was ruled a homicide.[1] About a year later, on April 25, 2012, her half-sister's ex-boyfriend, Michael Johnson, was arrested and charged with her murder. At the time, police declined to provide any details as to how the murder occurred, how they identified him as a suspect, or a motive in the case.[2] Johnson was convicted on February 6, 2013, of second-degree murder. However, the conviction was overturned when the trial judge granted the defense's motion for a new trial. Upon commencement of the second trial, all charges against Johnson were dropped on January 20, 2015.[3]

The case has been considered unusual because Barnes had no criminal history or any family problems. Baltimore City Police considered the case the most vexing missing person case they had ever investigated. They labeled it as Baltimore's Natalee Holloway case.[4]

The victim

Phylicia Simone Barnes, born on January 12, 1994, and age 16 at the time of her disappearance, was an honor student from Monroe, North Carolina. She was on track to graduate early and had plans to attend Towson University. She was visiting her relatives in Baltimore when she disappeared.[5]


Barnes initially was believed to have disappeared while walking to the Reisterstown Road Plaza in Baltimore from a nearby apartment complex on December 28, the last day she was seen. Following her disappearance, she never used her cell phone or credit cards or updated her Facebook page.

On January 3, police stated they were 'enormously concerned' about the missing girl.[6]

On January 22, America's Most Wanted aired a short feature during commercials.


Three months after her disappearance came a renewed effort for prayers. A $36,000 reward was offered.[7] Billboards were placed along major highways advertising for clues on her disappearance.[4]

On April 9, 2011, Maryland State Police conducted a massive search of Patapsco Valley State Park using more than 100 members of law enforcement and volunteers. The search did not turn up Barnes's body, but another body with no ties to Barnes was found.[8][9] Police declared themselves 'back at square one' after the search did not find her.[10]

Friends and classmates of Barnes in Monroe held a carnival to raise money in her honor on April 9.[8]

Body found and homicide investigation

At 7:30 am on April 20, 2011, workers spotted a body floating in the Susquehanna River near the Conowingo Dam. Another body was later found nearby.[11] Police confirmed the next day through a tattoo and dental records that the first body was that of Barnes.[12] The body of the other victim, an adult male, was identified and deemed not connected to the case of Barnes.[13]

Police at the time did not rule out foul play. They said the investigation into forensics and into determining how Barnes died and how she got to a location 45 miles from where she disappeared could take weeks.[14]

On May 4, following an autopsy, the death was officially ruled a homicide. The cause of death was determined, but was withheld at that time for investigative purposes in fear of jeopardizing the investigation.[15] Soon after, a security expert discussed the Barnes case.[16]

On September 6, WSOCTV obtained court documents that showed Barnes's sister was attempting to obtain a restraining order against her former boyfriend Michael Johnson just two months following the disappearance. He was reportedly the last person to see Barnes alive.[17] Johnson's attorney stated that Johnson was not responsible for the murder, and that he had a new girlfriend and had moved on. Johnson had been questioned eight times by police.[18]

Suspect named

On April 25, 2012, Michael Johnson, the ex-boyfriend of Barnes' half sister, was arrested after fleeing from police, in connection with the disappearance and murder. At the time, police did not release details on the connection between Johnson and Barnes; only that Johnson was the last to see Barnes alive.

At a hearing on April 27 was the first time details of the murder became public. Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Goldberg testified at a hearing that Johnson asphyxiated Barnes at her sister's apartment, and then carried her body out of the apartment in a 35-gallon plastic tub. He was reportedly seen sweating and struggling to move the container.[19][20]

No motive for the murder was presented at the hearing. But it was reported that Johnson had just broken up with Barnes's sister. He was reported to have been using the tub that he was alleged to have carried out the body in to remove his belongings from her apartment. The tub has not been recovered.[20]

It had been reported that during the visit, Johnson had made Barnes feel uncomfortable. He had exchanged 500 phone calls and text messages with Barnes and considered her his 'little sister.'.[20]

Homicide count

On May 8, 2012, the city of Baltimore officially added Barnes to their 2010 homicide count. This increased the year's homicide total from 196 to 197. Considered to be nothing more than an administrative move, it still did not push the total count to 200. 2010 had been the first year since the 1970s in which the city of Baltimore recorded fewer than 200 homicides.[21]

Final plans

On April 28, more than 700 people gathered at the school Barnes used to attend to remember her.[22]

Her funeral, which was private, took place in Georgia on May 7, 2011.[15]


On February 6, 2013, Johnson was acquitted of first-degree murder but convicted of second-degree murder.[23]

During the trial, Barnes's sister and Johnson's former girlfriend Deena testified that Johnson had allowed Phylicia to consume alcohol and then made sexual advances on her.[24] A neighbor testified that he had seen Johnson carrying a container out of the apartment, the one Barnes was believed to have been transported in.[23] A petty criminal testified that he had helped Johnson dispose of the body.[25]

The defense argued that no physical evidence proved that Johnson was the killer. The defense stated that the case was entirely circumstantial, and that Johnson did not have time to kill Barnes, clean the apartment of forensic evidence, and dispose of the body within the timeframe given, and altogether, he had no motive to commit the crime.[24]

Sentencing was scheduled for March 20. Johnson could have received up to 30 years in prison.

Johnson's attorneys sought a new trial, alleging that the prosecution bolstered the credibility of the petty criminal who testified on their behalf.

At Michael Johnson's sentencing hearing on March 20, the judge threw out the murder conviction and ordered that he receive a new trial.[26]

Johnson's new trial was originally set for February 21, 2014,[27] but was postponed until April 28, 2014 at the request of his new attorneys.[28]

On January 20, 2015, Judge John Addison Howard dropped all charges against Michael Johnson, stating there was insufficient evidence to continue the trial.

On March 30, 2018, after a third trial, Johnson was acquitted of all charges related to the murder of Phylicia Barnes.

Long-term impact on society

The Barnes case has resulted in increased advocacy for the missing.[29]

One year later

On the one-year anniversary of Barnes's disappearance, a vigil was held by family and friends in her memory at the believed site of her disappearance. Her father stated he did not believe she was murdered after having gone out and that whatever took place was in the apartment. Police said they are closer to solving the case but did not want to divulge details in order to avoid jeopardizing the investigation.

Barnes' half-brother Bryan joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2012, inspired by the work detectives did.[30]

Phylicia's Law

In 2012, a bill known as Phylicia's Law passed in the Maryland General Assembly, named after Barnes. The bill, sponsored by Maryland State Delegate Jill P. Carter, leg. dist. 41., requires the state to publish a list of missing children along with statistics, and a list of volunteers who can aid law enforcement in the search for missing children. While similar laws exist in other states, this became the first such law named after a minority-race child.[31]

The bill was signed into law by Governor Martin O'Malley on May 1, 2012.[32]

Phylicia Barnes Foundation

A foundation was started in Barnes' memory. Fundraising was done at an area Chick-Fil-A.[33]

See also


  1. ^ DiMarco, Nick; Bryan P. Sears (April 21, 2011). "Investigation into Death of Teen Moves to 'New Place'". North Baltimore Patch. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  2. ^ Eng, James (April 26, 2011). "Phylicia Barnes case: Arrest made in death of North Carolina teen who went missing in Baltimore in 2010". MSNBC. Archived from the original on April 28, 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  3. ^ Eng, James (January 20, 2015). "Judge drops all charges against Michael Johnson". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Police: Body found in Md. river is missing NC teen". Associated Press. April 21, 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  5. ^ Black, Caroline (January 4, 2011). "Phylicia Barnes Missing: Police Fear N.C. Teen Abducted in Baltimore". WJZ. Baltimore: CBS. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  6. ^ Fenton, Justin (January 3, 2011). "Police 'enormously concerned' about missing teen girl". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  7. ^ Lyttle, Steve (Mar 28, 2011). "3 months, no trace of Phylicia Barnes". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 21 April 2011.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ a b "Fundraiser, Search In Phylicia Barnes Disappearance". Monroe, NC: April 9, 2011. Archived from the original on 12 April 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  9. ^ Cooke, Meghan (Apr 10, 2011). "Police search park for Monroe teen". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 21 April 2011.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Baltimore police 'back at square one' after park search for clues in NC teen's disappearance". BALTIMORE. Associated Press. April 10, 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Shine, Tom; Z. Byron Wolf; Arlette Saenz (April 21, 2011). "Phylicia Barnes, Missing North Carolina Teen, Found Dead Near Baltimore; Cause of Death Unknown". ABC News. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  12. ^ Hayes, Kevin. "Body of missing student Phylicia Barnes found in Md". WJZ. PORT DEPOSIT, Md.: CBS. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  13. ^ "Police Identify Man Found Dead Near Phylicia Barnes". Md.: WSOC. Archived from the original on 28 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  14. ^ Martinez, Edecio (April 22, 2011). "After body of Phylicia Barnes found, investigators search for answers". CrimeSider. PORT DEPOSIT, Md.: CBS/WJZ. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  15. ^ a b Fenton, Justin (May 4, 2011). "Phylicia Barnes' death ruled homicide, cause withheld". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  16. ^ Schaffer, Christian (2011-05-05). "Security expert discusses Barnes case: Police have confirmed Phylicia Barnes was murdered". ABC News. Archived from the original on 8 May 2011. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Phylicia Barnes' Sister Wanted Restraining Order Against Ex-Boyfriend". WSOCTV. September 6, 2011. Archived from the original on 17 January 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  18. ^ "Lawyer discusses Barnes' death". Charlotte Observer. English: WBTV. Sep 8, 2011. Archived from the original on 24 July 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  19. ^ Desmond-Harris, Jenee (Apr 28, 2012). "Phylicia Barnes Kidnapping: Arrest Made". The Root. Archived from the original on 29 April 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  20. ^ a b c Fenton, Justin (Apr 27, 2012). "Details in Phylicia Barnes murder emerge at hearing". The Root. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  21. ^ Justin Fenton (May 8, 2012). "Phylicia Barnes' death added to city's 2011 murder count". Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  22. ^ Burkins, Glenn (Apr 29, 2011). "700 gather to remember Phylicia Barnes". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 5 May 2011.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ a b Justin Fenton (February 6, 2013). "Michael Johnson found guilty in killing of Phylicia Barnes". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  24. ^ a b Franco Ordoñez (February 5, 2013). "Baltimore jury continues weighing Phylicia Barnes case". Charlotte Observer. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  25. ^ "Phylicia Barnes Verdict: Michael Johnson, Md. man, found guilty of second-degree murder in NC teen's death". CBS News. February 6, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  26. ^ "Accused Phylicia Barnes killer Michael Johnson to get new trial". Archived from the original on 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
  27. ^ Ian Duncan (January 24, 2014). "Case of Phylicia Barnes detective heads to trial". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
  28. ^ Katie Lange (February 21, 2014). "2nd trial in Phylicia Barnes' death postponed until April". WBAL-TV. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  29. ^ "Barnes case creating new advocacy for the missing". CBS Baltimore. June 29, 2011.
  30. ^ "Phylicia Barnes' half brother joins Baltimore City Police Department". ABC2NEWS. April 30, 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  31. ^ "'Phylicia's Law' Passes Md. House And Senate". Associated Press. April 9, 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  32. ^ Michael Dresser (May 2, 2012). "O'Malley signs environment, social media bills". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  33. ^ "Chick-Fil-A fundraiser for Phylicia Simone Barnes Foundation". WMAR TV. May 17, 2012. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
This page was last edited on 6 November 2023, at 02:30
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