Word broke late Wednesday from Barnes’ relatives, and was confirmed by authorities. The attorney for Michael Johnson, the former boyfriend of Phylicia’s older sister, confirmed that his client had been taken into custody at about 11:30 p.m. on unknown charges. Johnson had been the last person to see her alive.
Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Johnson was arrested in connection with the Barnes’ killing, but could not elaborate on the charges filed. An announcement was expected Thursday morning.
Russell Neverdon, Johnson’s attorney, said his client maintains his innocence. He said members of the Warrant Apprehension Task Force came to Johnson’s house, arrested him, and took the keys to the house. He said he had previously instructed his client not to answer any questions in the event of his arrest.
Barnes’ case attracted national media attention. The honors student disappeared without a trace, and detectives worked round-the-clock in an effort to find her. Her body was later found floating in the Susquehanna River nearly a year ago to the day. The case sparked a bill in the Maryland legislature called “Phylicia’s Law,” which supporters say will improve coordination between law enforcement and community groups in missing children cases.
Reached by phone, Phylicia’s father, Russell Barnes, said the family was “rejoicing” over news of the arrest. He said the family had long suspected Johnson. He said he believes the new Phylicia’s Law helped thrust the case back into the spotlight.
“We feel this was there all along,” Barnes said. “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.”
Earlier this week, the lead investigator in the case, detective Daniel Nicholson, was suspended on allegations that he improperly used his position to investigate his own daughter’s disappearance. She was later found unharmed, but a wide probe has been launched into how Nicholson proceeded in his search.
Neverdon said he believes authorities expedited the case against Johnson “because they don’t want to ruin the credibility of the case” based on Nicholson’s suspension.
At one point in the case, The Sun first reported, federal authoritiesfiled search warrants seeking to access to Johnson’s Facebook account, among others, referencing a child pornography investigation. Authorities quickly sealed the warrants after they inadvertently became public, and it has not been explained how they related to the case.
On the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, Neverdon said investigators had “nothing” and were wasting time with Johnson, but he disclosed that the child pornography angle related to photos of Phylicia “streaking” with a group of people including Johnson.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.