Double jeopardy takes 1st degree murder off table in Barnes trial

Double jeopardy takes 1st degree murder off table in Barnes trial

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by WCNC.com Staff / The Associated Press

WCNC.com

Posted on March 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 2 at 2:58 PM

BALTIMORE, MD -- The judge presiding over the trial in the murder of Phylicia Barnes has ordered a new trial.

Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein says his office plans to retry Michael Johnson for the death of a North Carolina honor student who went missing for months before her body was found

Baltimore judge Alfred Nancy ruled that Johnson deserved a new trial because the prosecutors "severely" violated rules requiring them to turn over information about a witness to Johnson's defense.

The Associated Press reports the motion was granted because Johnson's lawyers argued  prosecutors improperly tried to bolster the credibility of a witness who testified that Johnson asked him for help disposing of Barnes' body.

"I think it's pretty obvious the state got caught with its hand in the cookie jar," said defense attorney Ivan Bates.

The witness, James McCray, testified Johnson called him the day Phylicia died, showed him her body, and said he killed her to keep her quiet after having sex. He was the only witness to so directly pin Johnson with the crime.

But, Judge Nancy agreed with Johnson's lawyers that prosecutors failed to disclose the full story about McCray's criminal record. The state turned over a handwritten summary of his record-- not the typical wrap sheet that would've included the fact that McCray had been in custody in Baltimore County. That's important because it may have allowed McCray to know key details about the crime through the media.

Prosecutors argued there was no way McCray would've had access.

Johnson was found guilty of second degree murder last month. The sentencing hearing was underway when the judge ordered the new trial.

Phylicia Barnes disappeared in 2010 while visiting family in Baltimore, Maryland. Her body was found several months later.

The new trial date for the Barnes murder case is May 28. Due to double jeopardy, the charge of first degree murder no longer applies.

Stay with NBC Charlotte and WCNC.com for the latest developments.

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