The trial of Michael Maurice Johnson, who’s charged with murdering North Carolina teen Phylicia Barnes, was rescheduled for early next year at the request of prosecutors and defense attorneys, who told a Baltimore judge Monday that they’re sorting through thousands of pages of evidence.
The new city circuit court date is January 21 at 9:30 a.m.
Prosecutors have handed over digital images of roughly 17,000 documents from their investigation to defense attorneys during the past two months, since Johnson, 28, was arraigned in June on a single count of first-degree murder. And there’s more to come, lawyers said.
“It’s a lot of work” to review, said Ivan Bates, who represents Johnson along with attorneys Russell Neverdon and Tony Garcia.
Barnes, who was in Baltimore visiting her older sister, went missing several days after Christmas in 2010. Her nude body was later found floating in the Susquehanna River in April of last year. Johnson, who had been dating Barnes’ sister, was the last known person to see her alive.
He was charged this spring after a 16-month investigation and is accused of suffocating Barnes, who was 16, and dumping her body, using a 35-gallon plastic tub to transport it from her sister’s apartment.
Neverdon said he’s confused by the police claims in this case, particularly after reviewing their investigation files, and he contends that law enforcement is relying on “the old cliche” of blaming the person who admits the latest interaction with the victim.
Johnson’s lawyers said there has been no talk of a plea deal yet, and won’t be until they’ve had a chance to fully review the state’s case. They added that they're confidant in their defense and that Johnson maintains his innocence.
“He’s going to fight this every step of the way,” Garcia said.
A spokesman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.