Man convicted of killing Phylicia Barnes wants new trial

Defense team cites "improper actions"

The man convicted of strangling 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes wants a new trial.

Michael Johnson's attorneys list a number of what they call "improper actions" taken by the prosecution in their motion for a new trial.

Many of them involve the state's key witness, James McCray.

During the trial, McCray -- a convicted criminal -- testified that he saw Phylicia Barnes' body in Michael Johnson's apartment, that Johnson admitted to raping the teen and even that Johnson asked him how to get rid of the body.

After the trial Johnson's defense attorneys said they believed without McCray's testimony the state could not have convicted Johnson.

"Despite his incredible testimony that was just all over the place; wrong date, wrong time, wrong apartment," said attorney Russell Neverdon outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced on February 6.

The motion for a new trial also claims that prosecutors improperly emphasized that testimony during their closing arguments.  A section reads: "The state on three separate occasions was able to argue ‘facts' that were not introduced into evidence in an attempt to bolster the credibility of their sole eyewitness."

"You cannot argue facts that are not in evidence.  The Court of Appeals has said that numerous times, and have admonished prosecutors that have done that," said another member of Johnson's defense team, Ivan Bates, on February 6 th.

The defense also says even with McCray's testimony, the evidence was not strong enough to warrant a guilty verdict.

But the city's top prosecutor remains confident the conviction will stand.

"We're not at all surprised that they filed a motion for a new trial and we will respond to their motion in due course," said Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein in an interview Tuesday night.

If that motion for a new trial is denied the next step would be sentencing for Michael Johnson; 30 years is the maximum for 2 nd degree murder.

The jury found Johnson not guilty of the original charge of first degree murder, which could have meant life in prison.

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