New details are emerging in the death of a 16-year-old girl as the man accused in her murder makes his first court appearance in Baltimore.
Investigators in Baltimore charged Michael Johnson, 28, with first degree murder in the death of Phylicia Barnes, 16. The Union County honor student's body was found in a Maryland river in April 2011, four months after she went missing while visiting family in Baltimore.
Johnson is the former boyfriend of Phylicia's older half-sister.
Johnson was denied bail in a court hearing in Baltimore on Friday after the judge said he was a flight risk.
The state told the judge that during the summer of 2010, Johnson exchanged over 500 text messages with Barnes.
On the day she went missing, witnesses say they say Johnson with a 35-gallon blue storage bin; he was sweating profusely, the state told the judge.
During the proceedings, WBTV also learned that Barnes died of asphyxiation.
Workers at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River discovered the teen's body the following April. This is in Harford County, Maryland.
Medical examiners ruled the death a homicide.
On Thursday, Guglielmi revealed that investigators believe Barnes was murdered in the Baltimore city limits.
In a statement to WBTV News on Thursday morning, Johnson's attorney said that he was arrested around 11:10 p.m. Wednesday night.
"At 11:10 pm last night, Mr. Johnson's girl friend and child's mother contacted me to advise he was arrested outside of his home while leaving for work." lawyer Russell Neverdon told WBTV.
Johnson is the last known person to see Phylicia alive, police say.
"I was in [sic] the phone with her while (WATF) Warrant Apprehension Task Force, had entered the home and commenced searching the home under the guise of lookig [sic] to see if others were in the home," Neverdon said. "That in and of itself was questionable when you has [sic] a warrant for his arrest."
Neverdon said investigators then searched Johnson's girlfriend's closet and he told her to ask them for their search warrant.
"Within minutes, they then reported they were not going to search the home," Neverdon said. "But refuses [sic] to return his keys when requested."
Johnson was charged with first degree murder after a Baltimore City Grand Jury indicted him on Wednesday afternoon. He is expected to have his first hearing as early as Friday.
"They just locked up Michael Johnson for the murder of my daughter!" Barnes' father Russell Barnes posted on Facebook Wednesday night. "Thank you Lord for the victory! J-4-P-S-B (Justice For Phylicia Simone Barnes)."
The family has suspected Johnson's involvement in Phylicia's death for months.
"We feel this was there all along," Barnes told the Sun. "No one [in Baltimore] knew Phylicia but the immediate family; he dated Deena [Phylicia's sister] for over 10 years and Phylicia was part of his life. ... We will let the facts come out. Justice will be dealt with."
Neverdon told the Baltimore Sun that his client maintains his innocence. Neverdon feels the arrest was rushed to save the investigation.
"This is all in the wake of the lead detective, Detective Nicholson's personal issues making headlines and potentially casting questions of the integrity of the investigation," Neverdon said.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Nicholson was suspended earlier this week on allegations that he improperly used his position to investigate his own daughter's disappearance. She was later found unharmed.
When questioned during a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Guglielmi said Nicholson's suspension would not affect the case against Johnson.
Barnes' was a student at Union Academy in Union County when she went missing in December 2010.
Her former principal Lawrence Sullivan, said on Thursday that he was glad that an arrest had been made in her killing.
"Phylicia was taken from us last year but we are still going to be dealing with this as a family, as a community, and as a school," Sullivan told WBTV. "And we just hope there is some closure for her family. Our thoughts and prayers always go out to her and her family."
He continued, "Phylicia was a great student. She was an amazing personality, a talent in the theater and a talent in the classroom and it's unfortunate that she was taken from us so soon."
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