KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Harrell Johnson (search), the stepfather of a girl whose decapitated body was know only as "Precious Doe" (search) for more than four years, has been indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The charge was upgraded from a second-degree murder count originally filed against Johnson, 25, and his wife Michelle M. Johnson (search), 30, both of Muskogee, Okla. They were arrested on May 5 after Kansas City police followed up on a tip from a family member linking them to the death of their daughter, Erica Michelle Green (search).
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" and rallied to identify the girl and her killer.
Jackson County prosecutor Mike Sanders said his office will decide soon whether to seek the death penalty against Harrell Johnson.
The 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.
Last month, Michelle M. Johnson, Erica's mother, was charged in Oklahoma with obtaining food stamps and welfare assistance for the girl years after the child was killed.
Records show she received more than $2,000 in state aid on behalf of her daughter on several occasions between September 2001 and her arrest in May.
A probable cause statement said Harrell Johnson admitted that he was under the influence of alcohol and the hallucinogenic drug PCP (search), 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.