The Barnes family attended vigils to ensure authorities never forgot or gave up, as blogs lit up over rumors about the family and theories on the killing.

The wait for the arrest was very difficult, said Barnes' uncle, Harry Watson, who attended Thursday's news conference.

"Every day I got up with the same thing in mind: When will they make an arrest?" said Watson, 54, who lives in Catonsville. He wore a ribbon of purple, Phylicia's favorite color, and was joined by the teen's half-brother, Bryan, who wore a pendant with her photo — a gift, he said, from a stranger who took interest in the case.

The case sparked a measure in the Maryland legislature called "Phylicia's Law," which supporters say will improve coordination between law enforcement and community groups in missing-child cases.

Reached by phone, Phylicia's father, Russell Barnes, who first posted news of the arrest to Facebook, said the family was "rejoicing." He said he believes Phylicia's Law helped thrust the case back into the spotlight.

"No one [in Baltimore] knew Phylicia but the immediate family; [Johnson] dated Deena for over 10 years and Phylicia was part of his life," he said. "We will let the facts come out. Justice will be dealt with."

Legal experts said the single-count indictment was unusual, but they were unsure of the reasons behind it. Typically, associated charges such as manslaughter, assault, conspiracy or reckless endangerment are filed for authorities to fall back on if they cannot achieve a conviction on the murder count.

Glenn F. Ivey, the former top prosecutor in Prince George's County who is now in private practice and is not involved in the Barnes case, said Bernstein appeared to be keeping his options open for additional use of the grand jury.

Howard University Law School dean Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore's state's attorney from 1983 to 1987 and a former mayor, said in an e-mail that "one count is unusual. … I would have thought that more than one crime is involved."

Brian Thompson, a private defense attorney and former Baltimore County prosecutor, said a single-count indictment typically indicates that prosecutors are trying an "all-in" strategy on the most serious charge — which can be risky. "Typically with a single-count indictment, they're trying not to give the jury the opportunity to come up with some compromise verdict," he said.

Johnson was taken into custody late Wednesday after prosecutors obtained the indictment. Neverdon said his client suffered cuts and bruises, and had a bloody shirt, because a federal agent punched him and others kicked him during the arrest outside his apartment complex. Authorities said he was tackled after he tried to run and resisted arrest.

Neverdon said "it's strange how it all came about, the timing," indicating, he said, a rush to file charges. He said prosecutors couldn't suddenly have obtained any more evidence against Johnson than they have amassed over the past year.

"At best what they have is a circumstantial case," Neverdon said. He also suggested authorities were trying to stay ahead of the investigation of Nicholson, the detective.

Nicholson was charged in September in Baltimore County of assaulting his daughter by hitting her with a coaxial cable. He was upset about her using Facebook and talking to a boy, according to a county police report. The charges were dropped after the family agreed to attend counseling, but last Friday the daughter ran away from home after a dispute over grades and social networking, police say.

Nicholson allegedly searched a home in Northeast Baltimore while looking for his daughter; the occupants of the home reported to police that they were assaulted. The case is being investigated by the city Police Department's internal affairs division, with officials looking into whether detectives improperly tracked phones and used overtime funds, according to law enforcement sources.

If Nicholson went outside regulations to search for his own daughter, Neverdon said he will examine whether the detective broke the rules on the Barnes case as well. But authorities dismissed any such suggestion.

At one point in the case, an FBI agent filed search warrants seeking access to Johnson's Facebook account, among others, and several e-mail accounts that appeared to belong to Phylicia, with the search warrant referencing a child pornography investigation.

Authorities quickly sealed the warrants after they inadvertently became public, and it has not been explained how they related to the case.

On the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, Neverdon said investigators had "nothing" and were wasting time with Johnson. But he disclosed that the child pornography angle related to photos of Phylicia "streaking" with a group of people including Johnson, which he believes was being used to show his client was in the victim's small group of close friends.

Neverdon said Johnson and Phylicia shared a "big brother, big sister" relationship. Johnson had participated in family events and gatherings, he said, confirming relatives' accounts.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

justin.fenton@baltsun.com


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