Kansas City, Mo. Harrell Johnson, the stepfather of a girl whose decapitated body was known only as "Precious Doe" for over four years, has been indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The new charge opens the door for the death penalty after a second-degree murder count was originally filed against Johnson, 25, and his wife Michelle M. Johnson, 30, both of Muskogee, Okla. They were arrested on May 5 when Kansas City police followed up on a tip from a family member linking them to the death of their daughter, Erica Michelle Green.
Jackson County prosecutor Mike Sanders said his office will decide whether to seek the death penalty against Harrell Johnson. Enhanced charges against his wife are not expected.
The grand jury's decision to upgrade the murder charge was made after a complete case file was presented that included more interviews and evidence, Sanders said. Those details are under seal.
The first-degree murder charge allows for a sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty. A review process that could take between four and six months will ultimately decide whether Sanders will seek the death penalty.
The grand jury indictment also includes felony counts against Harrell Johnson for endangering the welfare of a child, abuse of a child resulting in death and child abuse.
The couple waived their preliminary hearings and will be tried separately in Jackson County Circuit Court. Bail has been denied for Harrell Johnson, and Michelle M. Johnson is in jail on $500,000 bond. Their next court appearance has not been set.
A probable cause statement said Harrell Johnson admitted that he was under the influence of alcohol and the hallucinogenic drug PCP, when he became angry with Erica after she refused to go to bed. He admitting grabbing her, kicking her and throwing her to the ground, leaving her unconscious. After she died, with the help of his wife, he said he used hedge clippers to sever her head and dispose of her body.