BALTIMORE (AP) - Prosecutors are asking that the courtroom be closed when they play a sexually explicit video that defense lawyers say depicts a slain teen and three others, including the man charged in her death.
The motion comes less than a month before the first-degree murder trial of 28-year-old Michael Maurice Johnson. He has pleaded not guilty in the 2010 death of his ex-girlfriend's 16-year-old sister, Phylicia Barnes, who was from Monroe, N.C.
Defense attorney Russell Neverdon said rumors about the video have raised so much curiosity that it has become relevant. He said it does not show Johnson and the teen in sexually explicit conduct with each other.
He said the video, which was on 29-year-old Deena Barnes' cellphone, shows young adults being very promiscuous, referring to marijuana that may have been imbibed.
The Barnes sisters, Johnson and Johnson's younger brother are on the video, Neverdon said.
The state's motion was first reported by The Baltimore Sun. Neverdon and fellow defense attorney Ivan Bates said the move caught them off guard.
The video is very disturbing, Neverdon said. It's a parent's worst nightmare. We have tried to tread very lightly out of respect for grieving family members.
Neverdon said now that prosecutors indicated they will use the video, I do believe Michael is entitled to any benefit that can come from it. He said the video disproves the prosecution's implication that Phylicia Barnes was uncomfortable around Johnson.
Barnes disappeared while visiting Baltimore for the 2010 Christmas holidays and her body was found in the Susquehanna River months later. Johnson was indicted in April of this year.
Prosecutors say Johnson killed Barnes in her sister's apartment, then used a 35-gallon tub to move the body.
The case spurred broader interest in missing persons cases and led to a bill that passed in the Maryland legislature this year called Phylicia's Law, to improve coordination between law enforcement and community groups when a child disappears.
Johnson's trial is set for Jan. 22. A motions hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8.