KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A man was convicted of murder Wednesday after kicking his girlfriend's daughter in the head and dumping her body in the woods, 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. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, partly because Johnson agreed to withdraw his request to have the case moved out of Kansas City.
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.
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.