'Precious Doe's' mother testifies at husband's trial

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 | 1:24 p.m. CDT; updated 5:00 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 7, 2008

KANSAS CITY — 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.


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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.

"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 testified.

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.

Prosecutors contend that after Erica died, Harrell Johnson decapitated her with a pair of hedge clippers and dumped her body in a wooded area of Kansas City, where a police officer found her in April 2001. Local residents nicknamed the girl "Precious Doe.'' Her identity remained unknown until 2005, after Harrell Johnson's grandfather in Muskogee tipped a Kansas City community activist who had kept the case in the spotlight.

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.

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