Damn, Deena Barnes, what kind of big sister are you?
Scores of people following the trial of a man named Michael Maurice Johnson are asking that same question. And Phylicia Barnes’ ghost might be asking the same thing.
Phylicia, only 16 when she went missing in late December of 2010, was Deena’s baby sis. Phylicia’s family has said she was a good girl, an A student just visiting the city appropriately nicknamed Bodymore, Murderland to stay with her sister.
Memo to parents: when a city has a nickname like Bodymore, Murderland, don’t let your kids within a 50-mile radius of the place.
Judging from what prosecutors said in opening statements of Johnson’s trial in a Baltimore circuit court, Phylicia was a good girl until she got around Deena.
Cops and investigators scoured Baltimore and points beyond for four months after Phylicia disappeared. The place she was last seen? Deena’s apartment.
Four months later, Phylicia’s decomposing body was found floating in the Susquehanna River, just south of the Conowingo Dam, about 40 miles north of Baltimore.
After a lengthy investigation, cops charged Johnson, the last person known to have seen Phylicia alive, with her murder. (Johnson was Deena’s boyfriend when Phylicia first came to Baltimore in June of 2010. The relationship was on the rocks when Phylicia disappeared six months later.) Johnson’s trial started with jury selection last week.
Opening statements began Monday. Among the things prosecutors alleged is that Deena allowed Phylicia to booze it up when baby sis stayed at her apartment.
Oh, if only that were the extent of it.
Although Russell Neverdon, one of Johnson’s four lawyers, told jurors that, “this case is not about sex, lies and videotape,” it appears that this case is very much about those things.
Assistant State’s Attorney Lisa Goldberg told jurors that there is indeed a “videotape” involved in this case. According to Goldberg, after an evening of boozing in Deena’s apartment, Deena, Phylicia and Johnson stripped naked and streaked around the apartment complex.
Then they went to a school near the apartments. Once there, two of Johnson’s brothers joined them. Goldberg told jurors the quintet then engaged in “naked touching and kissing.”
Goldberg hopes to convince jurors that Johnson, his relationship with Deena notwithstanding, had a sexual obsession with Phylicia. On the sex video, Goldberg said, Johnson is seen touching Deena, but looking at Phylicia.
The sex video was made in June of 2010, Goldberg said that Johnson started texting Phylicia with greater frequency. By the end of the year, they had exchanged over 1,300 messages.
Neverdon countered that the texts were completely innocent, that there was nothing “explicit or inappropriate” in them.
In addition to the circumstantial evidence against Johnson, Goldberg said the state would produce a witness that claims he saw Phylicia’s body in Deena’s apartment. Johnson, Goldberg told jurors, had called the witness, James McCray, to help him dispose of Phylicia’s body.
Neverdon dismissed McCray, currently on lockdown in Charles County, Md., as a “jailhouse snitch.”
Part of the state’s case against Johnson is his absence from work the day Phylicia went missing. Investigators, Goldberg told jurors, traced his cell phone to Patapsco Valley State Park, not far from the river where Phylicia’s body was found.
As might be expected, Johnson has maintained since his arrest that he’s not guilty. But there’s guilt to go around in the matter of Phylicia Barnes, her disappearance, her murder and sex, lies and videotape.
The sex on the videotape has already been described. As for the lies, well, there have been lies aplenty. It’s just a matter of who’s been telling them.
For a period of four months, police and investigators asked Deena Barnes, Johnson and just about everybody else connected with Phylicia what had happened to the girl. Judging from the reaction, nobody knew a damned thing.
But somebody knew plenty. That would be the person – or persons – that murdered Phylicia and disposed of her body.
That may or may not have been Johnson. But, based on what has come out in that Baltimore circuit court so far, one thing is certain.
Had Phylicia been visiting anybody but her big sis Deena, then baby sis might still be alive today.