KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A prosecutor announced Saturday he would seek the death penalty against a man charged with beheading his 3-year-old stepdaughter, whose body was unidentified for nearly four years and was known only as "Precious Doe."
Harrell Johnson, 26, was initially charged with second-degree murder in the death of 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," Jackson County Prosecutor Mike 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, of Muskogee, Okla., were arrested May 5 when Kansas City police followed up on a tip from a relative identifying Erica and linking them to her death.
Erica's body was found in a park in Kansas City in 2001, when she would have been almost 4. Her head was discovered in a trash bag nearby.
The community called her "Precious Doe" and hundreds gathered for a funeral in December 2001.
The body was exhumed in July 2003 so experts could make a lifelike bust of what she may have looked like. She was buried a second time in August, under a new marble grave marker bearing her name.
Sanders said Saturday that additional charges were not immediately expected against Michelle Johnson, who is charged with second-degree murder in Erica's death.
According to court documents, Harrell Johnson admitted he was under the influence of alcohol and the hallucinogenic drug PCP when he became angry with Erica because she refused to go to bed. He allegedly admitted kicking her and throwing her to the ground. After she died, he said, he used hedge clippers to sever her head and dispose of her body, with his wife's help.
The couple will be tried separately. Harrell Johnson is being held without bail, Sanders said. Michelle Johnson remains in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.