The Barnes family said he did it, state prosecutors said he did it, even a jury of Michael Johnson’s peers said he did it, but the man convicted of killing Phylicia Barnes will get a new trial.
In the words of defense attorney Ivan Bates during his argument for a new trial Wednesday morning, “What you're looking at your honor is a case on life support but for one James McCray.
After making the argument that the state did not hand over ample information about its star witness, Judge Alfred Nance pulled the plug.
"I'm very happy. One of the things that is important with our judicial system is that everybody play by the same set of rules. I think what's pretty obvious that the state got caught with its hands in the cookie jar," Bates said.
The cookie is key witness James McCray.
He testified in trial that he saw Phylicia's dead body in Michael Johnson's apartment and that Johnson admitted to raping and choking the 16 year old to death.
But the defense argued prosecutors gave them nothing more than a hand written list of McCray's previous convictions before the trial.
There was also no mention of an arrest in Baltimore County during 2011, nothing of the fact that McCray has a history of contacting jurisdictions to testify in widely publicized cases and no mention of his various alias’ and date of births.
The state also held on to a piece of evidence that explained McCray was found not to be credible as a witness in an earlier case.
"The state did not give us the information, record and the background of Mr. McCray, what they're telling us especially since they put together their own hand written and reproduction of his background and record and history. They were basically vouching for his credibility to say there is nothing bad out there about this man," said Bates.
And that was enough for Judge Nance to grant the motion of a new trial for Michael Johnson.
While his once longtime girlfriend Deena Barnes walked out of court without saying a word, her father Russell spoke of the family's resolve that Michael Johnson is the man that killed Phylicia and they will be patient.
"We're positive. We're with the state for doing what they have to do to make sure justice is served for Phylicia. That's our main goal. Stay focused and justice must be served," said Barnes.
So now both sides will reset, including Johnson’s defense who in addition to preparing for a new trial, will try to get him bail.
Johnson’s attorneys feel the developments in court Wednesday could get him out from behind bars while he waits on yet another day in court.
"We may have a very good chance at getting our client bail, after all he is no longer facing first degree murder and the state's primary witness...again, the covers have been yanked off of him," said defense attorney Tony Garcia.
It could take anywhere from 30 to 60 days for any of that to happen or to schedule the new trial.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein released the following statement about today’s decision:
"We are disappointed in the judge's decision, but we look forward to the new trial in which we will be able to present the evidence and testimony we believe establishes the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
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