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Posted: 12:05 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013
Jury selection continued Wednesday in the trial for the man accused of killing a Monroe teenager. Michael Johnson is accused of killing Phylicia Barnes while she was visiting family in Baltimore in 2010. Johnson was arrested in April 2012 and charged with murder. The trial was set to begin over the summer, but both the prosecution and defense asked for a postponement. Barnes, who was an honors student at her North Carolina school, disappeared in December 2010 while she was visiting her sister in Baltimore for the holidays. Her body was found months later in the Susquehanna River in Cecil County. An autopsy determined that she died of asphyxiation. It was not until the spring of 2012 that police arrested Johnson, Barnes’ sister’s ex-boyfriend, and charged him with first-degree murder in the teen’s death. Prosecutors said Johnson killed Barnes in her sister’s apartment and then used a 35-gallon tub to move her body. The storage bin is a key piece of evidence, but the question is: Will prosecutors be allowed to use it? Prosecutors said two witnessed will testify they saw the suspect struggling with the container just before Barnes was reported missing in December of 2010. To prove the prosecutors theory, they want to bring a storage bin into court and have someone the teenager’s size get into the bin to show it is big enough to hold a body. However, Johnson’s lawyers argue no such container was ever found, and claim witness statements are so confusing that an in-court demonstration by prosecutors should not be allowed. The judge agrees for now, but said another ruling could come later. On Tuesday, there were more arguments about Daniel Nicholson, the lead detective in the case. Nicholson was suspended last year for allegedly misusing police resources to search for his own daughter who was later located unharmed. Defense lawyers claim prosecutors rushed to indict Johnson in the Barnes murder because of Nicholson’s troubles. The indictment came just a day after Nicholson’s suspension. Prosecutors said there is no connection, but jurors will hear the argument.
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