Posted on Thu, Apr. 26, 2012
last updated: April 26, 2012 06:04:05 PM
A 16-month investigation into the murder of Monroe teen Phylicia Barnes ended Wednesday night when Baltimore police arrested the ex-boyfriend of Barnes' older sister.
Authorities said Thursday that Michael Johnson, a 28-year-old Baltimore man who police say was the last person to see Phylicia Barnes alive, was charged with first-degree murder. A bail hearing is expected Friday for the suspect, police said.
The victim's family members expressed relief with the arrest.
Russell Barnes, Phylicia's father, told reporters, "This is what we've been waiting for."
Russell Barnes and other family members said they had suspected Johnson in the case. Investigators say he was in the northwest Baltimore apartment with 16-year-old Phylicia, a student at Union Academy in Monroe, the day she disappeared in December 2010.
According to police, Johnson told investigators Barnes had left to get something to eat on the afternoon of Dec. 28. She was not seen alive again.
After a four-month search by local, state and federal officials, Phylicia Barnes' body was discovered in late April 2011 in the Susquehanna River, about 50 miles north of Baltimore.
Police said she had been murdered, although they have not disclosed the manner of death.
Authorities did not disclose many details during a news conference Thursday afternoonl. Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein told reporters Johnson had been indicted by a grand jury Wednesday and was arrested late that night.
"He was arrested without incident," Bernstein said.
But he declined to answer several questions about what might have led police to make an arrest in the case. Johnson's attorney, Russell Neverdon, told reporters his client had been interviewed at least a half-dozen times since Phylicia Barnes disappeared.
"I hope this provides the family with some measure of relief," Bernstein said.
Barnes went to Baltimore in December 2011 to spend the Christmas holidays with her older sister, Deena. She was staying at her sister's residence in the Reistertown Square Apartments. Police launched a widespread search when she disappeared, following tips that led them to look in at least two parks and in the back yard of one residence.
But it was not until the Monroe teen's body was found in the river that police were sure they were dealing with a homicide.
Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told NewsChannel 36, the Observer's news partner, that the case consumed thousands of hours of investigation by Baltimore police.
"This case shook the department," Gugleilmi told WCNC. "It was shocking to us."
Police would not say what led them to take the case to the grand jury this week. But Neverdon, the suspect's attorney, suggested that it might have been an attempt by Baltimore police to act before their investigation was undermined by a probe into a lead detective in the case, Daniel Nicholson IV.
Nicholson was suspended this week while Baltimore police look into allegations that he used his position with the department to investigate the disappearance of his own daughter last week. His daughter later was found unharmed.
Last July, federal investigators got warrants to check several email and Facebook accounts. They said the probe, which included accounts used by Johnson and friends, was in connection with possible child pornography.
Neverdon told the Baltimore Sun on Thursday that the child pornography charges were related to photos of Barnes streaking with Johnson and several other people.