Archive for Sunday, December 4, 2005

Prosecutor seeks death penalty against stepdad in ‘Precious Doe’ case

December 4, 2005


— Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders announced Saturday he would seek the death penalty against Harrell Johnson.

Johnson is charged with beheading his 3-year-old stepdaughter, known for nearly four years only as "Precious Doe."

Johnson, 26, of Muskogee, Okla., had originally been charged with second-degree murder in the death of his stepdaughter, Erica Michelle Green.

But that charge was upgraded in August to first-degree murder, opening the door for the death penalty.

"Very few cases have touched our community more deeply than Erica's death," Sanders said.

"It was really because of the community, which wouldn't let Erica's death be forgotten, that we're seeking the death penalty now against Harrell Johnson."

Johnson and his wife, Michelle M. Johnson, 30, also of Muskogee, Okla., were arrested May 5 when Kansas City police followed up on a tip from a family member linking them to Erica's death.

"This decision was the result of a seven-month deliberative process that included people inside and outside the prosecutor's office," Sanders said.

Erica was almost 4 when her body was found in a park in Kansas City in 2001. Her head was discovered in a trash bag nearby. The community called her "Precious Doe," rallying to identify the girl and her killer.

Hundreds gathered for Erica's first funeral in December 2001. But the body was exhumed in July 2003 so that experts could make a lifelike bust of what the girl may have looked like. She was buried a second time in Kansas City in August.

Sanders said Saturday that additional charges were not immediately expected against Mrs. Johnson, who is charged with second-degree murder in Erica's death.

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 admitted 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.

The grand jury indictment also included 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, held in the Jackson County jail, Sanders said. Michelle M. Johnson was in jail on $500,000 bond.


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