KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The mother of the girl who became known as "Precious Doe" testified Tuesday that she watched her then-boyfriend kick her daughter in the head and helped him dump her body.
Michelle Johnson, 33, of Muskogee, Okla., took the stand on the second day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Harrell Johnson, 29, also of Muskogee. Michelle Johnson, who married Harrell a year after her daughter's death, previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 3-year-old Erica Green.
Michelle Johnson told a Jackson County jury that Harrell Johnson was high on drugs when he kicked Erica and that she watched helplessly as her daughter dropped to the floor of the Kansas City house where they were staying.
Jail officers unshackled the woman's feet so that she could demonstrate the kick.
"He just picked up his feet and kicked her on the side of the face. I said, `What the (expletive) did you do?' It shook him out of his high," Johnson said, as she stood and lifted her foot into the air in front of her.
She said she tried to revive the girl by putting her in a bathtub of cold water and when the girl didn't respond, she took her out and put her on the bedroom floor. She said she and Harrell Johnson did not seek medical help for the girl for fear of being arrested on outstanding warrants.
"We wasn't going to get it," she said. "Because we both was on the run from police."
She testified that Erica lay on the bedroom floor for what seemed like days, although Harrell Johnson contends it was hours. She said she knew that Erica would die if they didn't get her to a hospital.
"I was on the floor with her. I was singing her favorite song to her, which was a Barney song," Michelle Johnson told the jury. "I kissed her. I was asking God to let my daughter live and to take me."
After the girl finally took her last breath, the couple decided to wait until night to dispose of her body so that neighbors wouldn't see them, Michelle Johnson said.
She said she went with Harrell as he carried the girl and a bag with hedge clippers to the woods, where, for reasons Michelle Johnson could not explain, the couple undressed the girl.
"He handed her clothes to me and I left," she said.
She said he later told her about decapitating the girl and leaving her head in a church's trash bin. She said they moved the head from the bin to the woods because she feared church members would find it.
A police officer found Erica's naked, headless naked body in April 2001, and local residents nicknamed the girl "Precious Doe." Erica's identity remained unknown until 2005, when Harrell Johnson's grandfather in Muskogee tipped a Kansas City community activist who had kept the case in the spotlight.
At that time, Michelle and Harrell Johnson were in custody in Oklahoma on charges unrelated to Erica's death. Kansas City detective Danny Phillips testified Tuesday that he and other officers interviewed the Johnsons in Oklahoma and that the couple admitted their role in the child's death.
A videotape of Harrell Johnson's statement to police was to be played for jurors Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors contend that the Johnsons committed murder by failing to seek medical help as Erica lay dying for hours and possibly days. A pediatric neurosurgeon testified Monday that if the couple had quickly sought medical attention for Erica, doctors probably could have reversed the damage.
The defense admits that Harrell Johnson kicked the girl after she refused to go to bed, but contends that the act was not premeditated, as required for a first-degree murder conviction.
Besides first-degree murder, Harrell Johnson also is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, abuse of a child resulting in death and abuse of a child.
The trial is expected to last about a week. If convicted of first-degree murder, his only possible sentence would be life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, partly because Johnson agreed to withdraw his request to have the case moved out of Kansas City.