Date: 10/9/2008 6:44 AM
By ANDALE GROSS
Associated Press Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ For seven years a community waited to bring to justice the killers of a little victim it had come to know as “Precious Doe.”
The haunting case of the 3-year-old girl whose headless body was discovered in 2001 came to an end Wednesday with the first-degree murder conviction of Harrell Johnson, boyfriend of the victim’s mother at the time.
Johnson, 29, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.
“I’ve lived with this case for many years,” Kansas City police Sgt. David Bernard said after the verdict. “It was an emotional case for me and all the detectives who worked it. We took this little girl to heart.”
The unidentified little girl was dubbed “Precious Doe” until 2005, when a community activist received a tip from Johnson’s grandfather in Muskogee, Okla., that helped break the case. Johnson had been living at the time in Muskogee with victim’s mother, whom he married a year after the girl’s death.
Investigators learned then that the little girl’s name was Erica Green.
Michelle Johnson, 33, testified during the trial that Harrell Johnson kicked Erica in the head after the child refused to go to bed. She said he was high on drugs at the time.
Prosecutors argued Johnson left Erica to die in the bedroom of the Kansas City house where the couple were staying. They said the couple did not want to alert authorities because both had outstanding warrants and feared going to jail.
Johnson decapitated the body and dumped it in a wooded area in an attempt to hide the crime, prosecutors said.
The defense argued that Johnson didn’t deliberately cause the child’s death.
A pediatric neurosurgeon, who testified during the trial, said doctors probably could have reversed the damage if the couple had quickly sought medical attention for Erica.
Michelle Johnson pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder. Prosecutors have recommended she be sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before convicting Harrell Johnson of first-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a child and abuse of a child. He stood emotionless as the verdicts were read.
The only possible sentence on the murder charge was life in prison without parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, partly because Johnson agreed to withdraw his request to have the case moved out of Kansas City.
The jury recommended sentences of four years on the endangerment charge and 25 years on the abuse charge.
Alonzo Washington said Erica’s killing shook him and others because of its heinous nature of the crime.
“It feels good to know that Erica Green has finally received justice,” said Washington, who had received the case-breaking tip from Harrell Johnson’s grandfather. “I think a life sentence is fitting. It’s clear this man was a coward. He wanted to run from what he did.
“He may have taken Erica’s life, but he did not get away with it.”
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
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