At around 1 p.m., a witness saw Johnson coming out of his apartment, attempting to carry a "very large storage container." He was "having a great deal of trouble" and "sweating profusely," taking the container one step at a time, Goldberg said.

Johnson's brother returned to the apartment at 4:30 p.m., and it was empty, Goldberg said. At 6 p.m., Deena came home and realized Phylicia was missing. Phylicia had not met up as planned with her other half-sister, Kelly, and they called police.

Deena also called Johnson, at 7:41 p.m., to tell him Phylicia was missing, but from 7:51 p.m. to 1:02 a.m., Johnson did not answer his phone. Goldberg said investigators scoured security camera footage from the area around the apartment, near the Reisterstown Road shopping center, but found no sign of the girl.

Goldberg said Johnson also missed work that day, after having been dressed to leave.

Prosecutors said Johnson made conflicting statements when asked about the container, saying first that he used it to move clothes and electrical equipment, and later saying he moved "weights." Goldberg said investigators never found any items in Johnson's possession that would have been so difficult to move.

Neverdon said Johnson was already moving out of the apartment, and it was not unusual that he was seen removing items. He also said police had no records showing Johnson in the area of Harford County that night.

"He's here because of a circumstantial case," Neverdon said. "He's the last person to see her alive, so he must be the person responsible for her untimely demise."

Defense attorneys, who said Johnson has no criminal record and is raising an infant child, argued for his release on bail, offering to surrender his passport and have him submit to electronic monitoring.

Prosecutors, however, said he was a flight risk, citing October conversations — apparently wiretapped — in which he told a girlfriend and his brother that he was considering fleeing the country. He specifically floated the idea of moving to Brazil, where the United States does not have extradition powers, prosecutors said.

"The way things are going, I have to be realistic about the situation," Johnson is alleged to have told his girlfriend, according to Goldberg.

Neverdon said Johnson had already left the country, on a cruise, and returned. He said the conversations about fleeing were taken out of context, and came at a time when he was under pressure about the birth of a child he was not ready to take responsibility for. He has since taken a role in the child's life, Neverdon said.

Howard, the judge, ordered Johnson held without bail, saying he was concerned about the conversations related to leaving the country.

Neverdon said after the hearing that he will continue to represent Johnson. Earlier in the day, it appeared he was being dropped in favor of Mead.

Mead's firm includes a partner, Catherine Flynn, who has represented the former lead detective in the Barnes case, Daniel Nicholson IV. The detective was charged in Baltimore County with child abuse-related assault in September, and suspended by the city Police Department this week after allegedly conducting an unauthorized search for his own teenage daughter.

Neverdon said he had met with Johnson and his family, and said he plans to continue to represent Johnson. He expects to add attorneys Ivan Bates and Tony Garcia to the defense team.

jfenton@baltsun.com


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