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Prosecutors introduce sex video, Internet searches in Phylicia Barnes trial

A member of the Guardian Angels holds down a flyer during the search for Phylicia Barnes in 2011.
A member of the Guardian Angels holds down a flyer during the search for Phylicia Barnes in 2011. (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun)

Internet history on the phone of the man accused of killing Phylicia Barnes showed Web searches for forensic procedures and for books on high-profile killings such as the Casey Anthony and JonBenet Ramsey cases, a Baltimore police detective told jurors Thursday.

Jurors also were shown stills from a video that investigators say they found on Michael Maurice Johnson's phone. Detective Ray Bennett said the images showed Johnson having sex and giving money to an unknown woman police described as a prostitute.

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Johnson, 30, is on trial for the second time in the killing of Barnes, 16. The evidence introduced by prosecutors Thursday was not introduced in Johnson's first trial last year, underscoring the different approach prosecutors are now taking.

Johnson's last defense team, Russell Neverdon and Ivan Bates, said prosecutors didn't even attempt to introduce the information at the first trial, which Bates said would have been "extremely prejudicial" to the jury.

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"The evidence should be what the facts [of the crime] are," Neverdon said. "Trying to paint a picture to influence a jury tells me you don't have the case that you believe in."

Barnes, a high school student from North Carolina, was visiting family during the Christmas holidays in 2010 when she vanished from her sister's apartment in Northwest Baltimore. Her body turned up four months later in the Susquehanna River.

Johnson, the ex-boyfriend of the sister, is the last person known to have seen her alive. He was arrested a year after her disappearance and charged with first-degree murder.

At his first trial, Johnson was acquitted of first-degree murder but convicted of second-degree murder.

Then, at his sentencing, the judge ordered a new trial. The judge said prosecutors had withheld information that might have caused jurors to doubt the credibility of a key witness — a man who said Johnson called him, confessed to killing Barnes and showed him the body.

That witness, derided as a "jailhouse snitch" who had claimed to have information in other murder trials, is not being called this time, leaving prosecutors with a case described by the previous judge as circumstantial.

The Internet searches introduced Thursday, which police said were found on Johnson's phone after his arrest in April 2012, appear to date well after the killing. Police say they show visits to news articles and Twitter updates about the case, a "Pray for Phylicia" Facebook page and a "websleuths" message board, on which participants try to solve cases.

The history also showed a Web page for "forensic testing turnaround time," as well as "hair and DNA evidence," Bennett told jurors.

Bennett said the sex video shows Johnson in October 2010 setting up the camera and a woman entering his bedroom and picking up cash. Over objections from Johnson's attorneys, Bennett told jurors the woman appears to be a prostitute.

Bennett said police also found a video that shows Johnson, his younger brother, and Deena and Phylicia Barnes engaged in "naked touching." Bennett said the video had been titled "Bigdaddygohard."

Johnson's father, Glenton Johnson Sr., said outside the courtroom that prosecutors "want [Michael Johnson] to seem like a villain, and he's not."

Bates, one of Johnson's former attorneys, said he didn't understand the relevance of the video of the apparent prostitute.

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"To me, they're trying to say, 'Michael Johnson's a bad guy, so you should convict him because he's bad.' And that's what you don't want to happen," Bates said.

A gag order prevents prosecutors and Johnson's current defense team from commenting on the case. Prosecutors said in opening statements that Johnson, 26 at the time of Phylicia Barnes' disappearance, had developed an inappropriate relationship with her, said he sent her a high volume of text messages in the six months before she disappeared.

A neighbor testified that he saw Johnson struggling to move a storage container from Deena Barnes' apartment the day of the teen's disappearance. Prosecutors believe Phylicia's body was inside.

Johnson told police that he was in the process of moving out of the apartment, and saw Phylicia, whom he called "Lil Sis," when he stopped by to pick up some things.

In the hours afterward, police traced his cellphone, which they say showed him driving between the homes of family members in Southwest Baltimore and near Patapsco Valley State Park.

They say his phone never connected with a cellphone tower east of West Baltimore that night.

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