McCray's testimony, they said, was the only new piece of evidence introduced in the case since a Harford County grand jury that convened in late 2011 disbanded without charging Johnson. He came forward after Johnson was charged in Baltimore.
But prosecutors countered that McCray had information — about the neighborhood where the alleged crime took place and about Johnson's relationship with Barnes — that he would not have been able to provide if he was making up the story.
"There is only one person in this investigation that all of the facts and circumstances point to," LaPolla said during closing arguments. "There's only one logical conclusion."
Johnson's attorneys also cast doubt on the time span during which Johnson would have had to kill Barnes, consult with McCray and move the body — a window of about 38 minutes. Johnson's cell phone was turned off from about 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the last time Phylicia was heard from was 12:30 p.m. He also called off work that day.
He returned to the home later, spending the night as relatives gathered to begin searching, and he gave multiple interviews with police.
"We still feel in our hearts that Michael Johnson is not guilty," said his father, Glenton Johnson Sr., after the verdict.
Pauline Mandel, a lawyer with the Maryland Crime Victim's Resource Center representing Phylicia's mother Mustafa, thanked the prosecutors, jury and police, particularly city police Detective Daniel T. Nicholson IV. Nicholson was the lead detective in the murder investigation until he was suspended in April, accused of going on an unauthorized hunt for his own missing daughter.
Defense attorneys sought to raise questions about Nicholson's tactics and won the ability to question him on the stand about whether he was truthful about the investigation into the search for his missing daughter.
Capt. Stanley Brandford, who recently became commander of the homicide unit, said Nicholson and the other detectives on the case "did an excellent job. I'm proud of them."
Mustafa quivered with emotion as she spoke after the verdict was read. She did not spend much time in the courtroom during the trial, she said, because "it wasn't going to bring [Phylicia] back."
Phylicia's family wore purple, her favorite color, throughout much of the trial, and prayed together in the courthouse hallway. Her father, Russell Barnes, said he always believed that Johnson was the killer.
"Justice is served," Russell Barnes said outside the courthouse. "Phylicia can sleep now."
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.
First-degree murder: Not guilty
The state must prove that the conduct of the defendant caused the death; that the killing was willful, deliberate, and premeditated; and that there were no mitigating circumstances. To show premeditation, the state must show that the defendant thought about the killing, and there was enough time, though it may have only have been brief, for the defendant to consider the decision whether or not to kill, and to consider the reasons for and against the choice.
Second-degree murder: Guilty
Second-degree murder does not require premeditation or deliberation. In order to convict the defendant of second-degree murder, the state must prove that the conduct of the defendant caused the death of the victim, and that the defendant engaged in the deadly conduct either with the intent to kill or with the intent to inflict such serious bodily harm that death would be the likely result.