Kansas City, Mo. The trial of a man accused of killing a 3-year-old girl once known only as "Precious Doe" has been delayed so that defense attorneys can question a new state medical expert and perhaps find a witness to rebut his testimony.
Harrell Johnson, 28, of Muskogee, Okla., is charged with first-degree murder in the 2001 death of his stepdaughter, Erica Green. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty, and his case had been scheduled to go to trial in June.
However, defense attorneys obtained a delay this past week, after prosecutors said they have a medical expert who will testify that Erica's life could have been saved had she received medical care after she was struck in April 2001.
The delay means the case probably will not go to trial until at least fall.
Defense lawyers contend the killing as alleged was committed in sudden anger, making it second-degree murder, which is not eligible for the death penalty.
But prosecutors say the case involves the deliberation needed for first-degree murder, largely because Erica lay dying without medical treatment for up to 10 hours after she was struck.
The girl's decapitated body, and later her head, were found in a wooded area of Kansas City, whose residents dubbed the unidentified girl Precious Doe.It was not until May 2005, when Johnson and his wife were arrested and charged in Erica's death, that she was identified.
In pretrial testimony, former Jackson County medical examiner Thomas Young said he could not say whether Erica might have lived if taken to doctors.
Assistant prosecutor Tim Dollar now says that Gregory Hornig, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children's Mercy Hospital, will testify that medical treatment could have saved Erica's life.
"She could have been saved," Dollar said. "The defendant made a cool and conscious decision to let the child die."
Defense lawyer Kent Hall said that was "entirely speculation" and asked for the delay to question Hornig and consult with other doctors.
Erica's mother, Michelle Johnson, pleaded guilty in September to second-degree murder, child endangerment, abandoning a corpse and tampering with evidence in her daughter's death.
As part of the plea agreement, Johnson agreed to testify against her husband.