Trial under way for man in slaying of 3-year-old

By: AP
By: AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A man went on trial for murder Monday in the death of a 3-year-old girl whose headless body was found in the woods and nicknamed "Precious Doe."

Special prosecutor Tim Dollar told jurors Monday that the man, Harrell Johnson, 29, was high on drugs when he knocked his girlfriend's daughter, Erica Green, to the floor after she refused to go to bed. Johnson, along with the girls' mother, did not seek medical help as the girl lay dying for nearly 10 hours.

Dollar told jurors that the couple refused to get assistance for Erica because they had outstanding warrants against them and didn't want to go to jail.

Prosecutors claim the couple eventually took the girl's body out of the house and that Johnson decapitated her and dumped the body in the woods.

Defense attorney Kenton Hall told jurors that Johnson didn't intend for the girl to die and can't be convicted of murder.

The girl's headless body was discovered in a wooded Kansas City park area in 2001, and a volunteer searcher found her head several days later. For four years, the case haunted residents who longed to know who the girl was and who could have killed her in such horrific fashion.

Erica was identified in 2005 through a tip given to a community activist who was among those who kept attention on the case.

Prosecutors plan to call Michelle Johnson, Erica's mother and Harrell Johnson's wife, as a witness. The two were married a year after Erica's death, but she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last year and agreed to testify against her husband.

The trial is expected to last about a week. If convicted of first-degree murder, the only possible sentence for Harrell Johnson 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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