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Attorneys argue intent in "Precious Doe" trial

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | 1:35 p.m. CDT; updated 2:57 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 8, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed Wednesday over whether the man accused of killing a little girl long known as "Precious Doe,'' knew the girl would die after he kicked her in the head.

During closing arguments, Jackson County prosecutors told jurors that Harrell Johnson, 29, of Muskogee, Okla., caused the death of Erica Green in 2001 when he kicked the 3-year-old in the head and waited for hours without getting medical help while the child died.

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"This selfish coward made the decision to put himself before this 3-year-old child's life,'' said Jackson County's prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.

Johnson is charged with first-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a child, abuse of a child resulting in death and abuse of a child. After closing arguments, jurors began deliberating the case.

Defense attorney Chris Slusher told the jury Johnson didn't know the girl would die. He said prosecutors haven't proven Johnson is 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.

A police officer found Erica's naked, headless body in a wooded area of Kansas City in April 2001. Lacking an identity, she was known only as "Precious Doe'' until 2005, when a community activist received a tip from Johnson's grandfather in Muskogee, Okla. At the time, Johnson lived in Muskogee with Erica's mother, whom he married a year after the girl's death.

Johnson's trial began Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court, and prosecutors completed their presentation Tuesday with testimony from Johnson's wife, Michelle Johnson, and a videotaped confession by the defendant.

Michelle Johnson, 33, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder in Erica's death. During her nearly two hours on the stand Tuesday, she described the hours that led up to her daughter's death.

She testified that Harrell Johnson — her boyfriend at the time — was high on drugs when he kicked Erica in the head at a Kansas City home where they were staying. She said she knew the girl would die but she and Harrell Johnson did not seek medical help for her 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.''

A pediatric neurosurgeon testified Monday that if the couple had quickly sought medical attention for Erica, doctors probably could have reversed the damage.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Harrell Johnson's 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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