Date: 10/8/2008 10:05 PM
By ANDALE GROSS
Associated Press Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A man who kicked his girlfriend’s daughter in the head and dumped her body in the woods was convicted Wednesday, resolving a case that haunted the Kansas City area during the four years the 3-year-old was known only as “Precious Doe.”
The jury deliberated about three hours before convicting Harrell Johnson, 29, of the first-degree murder of Erica Green. He was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and abuse of a child.
The murder conviction will send Johnson to prison for life without parole, and jurors recommended four years on the endangerment count and 25 years on the abuse count. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, partly because Johnson agreed to withdraw his request to have the case moved out of Kansas City.
A sentencing date has not been set.
During closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors a guilty verdict would finally bring justice in a case that brought an outpouring of public grief after a police officer found Erica’s naked, headless body in a wooded area of Kansas City in April 2001.
“This selfish coward made the decision to put himself before this 3-year-old child’s life,” said prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.
Defense attorney Chris Slusher argued that Johnson didn’t know the girl would die. He said prosecutors hadn’t proven he was guilty of deliberately intending her death.
“It’s our position to you that the evidence in this case has not established that Harrell Johnson intended or deliberately meant for Erica Green to die,” Slusher said.
After the verdict, Kanatzar called the case a disturbing one that “will be with us for years to come.” He said he was relieved that Erica finally received justice and that Johnson got a life sentence.
Slusher said the defense’s first responsibility was to avoid a death sentence for Johnson, something it accomplished.
Lacking an identity, Erica was known only as “Precious Doe” until 2005, when a community activist received a tip from Johnson’s grandfather in Muskogee, Okla., where he lived with Erica’s mother, whom he married a year after the girl’s death.
Michelle Johnson, 33, testified against her husband Tuesday after she pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder in Erica’s death.
She said Harrell Johnson was high on drugs when he kicked Erica at the Kansas City home where they were staying. She said that she knew the girl would die but that they didn’t seek medical help for her out of fear of being arrested on outstanding warrants.
A pediatric neurosurgeon testified Monday that if the couple had quickly sought medical attention for Erica, doctors probably could have reversed the damage.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.