Defense attorneys for the Maryland man accused of killing teen Phylicia Barnes say they have found a new witness whose testimony could cast doubt on the allegations against him.
Russell Neverdon, an attorney for 28-year-old Michael Johnson, confirmed to HLN that the defense filed court documents this week indicating they intend to call a witness at Johnson’s trial who claims to have seen Barnes alive after prosecutors say she was killed.
Barnes, a 16-year-old from North Carolina, disappeared while visiting her half-sister in Baltimore on December 28, 2010. Johnson, who was the ex-boyfriend of Barnes’ half-sister, was allegedly the last person to see her alive.
Barnes’s body was found in the Susquehanna River nearly four months later, on April 20, 2011. In April 2012, Johnson was indicted for her murder. He is currently scheduled to go to trial on January 22, 2013.
At a bond hearing in April, prosecutors stated that Johnson was seen struggling to carry a 35-gallon tub out of the apartment building where Barnes was staying on the day she went missing, WBAL reported. According to Neverdon, prosecutors alleged that Johnson asphyxiated Barnes and carried her body away in that container.
The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday that defense attorneys said a witness would testify that he saw Barnes alive in Cecil County, Maryland days after she was reported missing. If true, that testimony could contradict the prosecution’s theory regarding when and where Barnes was killed.
Neverdon told HLN Friday that the man’s story disproves two key elements of the state’s case—that the murder occurred within the jurisdiction of the city of Baltimore and that it happened on December 28, 2010. According to Neverdon, the witness claimed to have seen Barnes with a bald white or light-complexioned male on December 30 or 31 about four miles from the location where her body was later found.
Neverdon said the man believes “unequivocally” that the girl he saw was Barnes. He said the man contacted authorities about the sighting and was told they would get back to him, but they never did. According to Neverdon, prosecutors have interviewed the witness but they discounted his story.
Neverdon said the man contacted the defense team and they had their private investigator talk to him. He said the man provided a very close description of Barnes, including details about the clothing she was wearing when she went missing that had not been disclosed to the media at the time.
“This is someone who just said, you know, hey, I saw her and nobody listened to me,” Neverdon said.
A Baltimore State Attorney’s Office spokesman declined to comment on the case Friday, citing the pending trial.