Mother, stepfather charged in 'Precious Doe' killing
Tipster provides name of girl found decapitated in 2001
(CNN) -- More than four years after her headless body was found, a child known nationally as "Precious Doe" has been identified, and her mother and stepfather face murder charges in her killing, authorities in Kansas City, Missouri, said Thursday.
Erica Michelle Maria Green was shy of her fourth birthday when she died. Officers were searching for a missing elderly man when they found her body in a wooded area near a church April 28, 2001. Her head, wrapped in a trash bag, was found nearby a few days later.
Police, unable to identify the child, named her Precious Doe. Law enforcement and the community banded together to solve the case.
Missing child advocate and Kansas City community activist Alonzo Washington said he spent four years working to get attention for Precious Doe because as a father he did not want people "to forget there was a child discarded like trash."
The child's mother, Michelle Johnson, and stepfather, Harrell Johnson, were each charged with second-degree felony murder and with endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Jackson County prosecutor's office.
County Prosecutor Michael Sanders said the mother is being held in Oklahoma, with bond set at $500,000. Additional charges are "very likely, very shortly," he said. Police said she has confessed to being involved in her daughter's death.
Office spokesman John Liebnitz said the stepfather was charged Thursday night.
The break in the case came when a man who said he had not seen his granddaughter for several years responded to a newspaper ad that Washington had placed, Kansas City police Capt. Rich Lockhart said.
The ad sought tips in the Precious Doe case and offered a $33,000 reward from community sources, Lockhart said. Since the body was found, police have logged more than 1,000 tips in the case.
The man provided photos he said were of the child and information about her parents, and Washington passed the information on to police in Kansas City and Muskogee, Oklahoma, where the couple lives, Lockhart said.
The couple was taken into custody on unrelated charges in Muskogee on Monday, and Kansas City police traveled there to question them.
During questioning, Michelle Johnson said she was Erica's mother and confessed to being involved in her death while the family was in Kansas City in 2001, Lockhart said.
Authorities allege Johnson's husband kicked Erica in the head, and the girl lay in the house for about two days, Sanders said.
"Roughly on April 28th, the stepfather in this case kicked the poor young girl Erica in the head," Sanders said. "After kicking her in the head, she essentially laid in the house for a roughly two-day period. It was after she quit moving, after I think it was fairly certain ... that she was no longer with us, that they decided to take her to the church ..."
"At that point he takes her out of the car, takes her back into the wooded area, and obviously we find her later.
"The death of this little girl has touched our community in a way that I think is absolutely unprecedented," Sanders said. Members of the community set up a Web site and formed a committee while continuing to seek information about the case.
"It's good to finally be able to give a name to the child," Sanders said. "It really gives us in the community and us in law enforcement a sense of purpose. We know who we are going to be fighting for."
The same tipster gave investigators information a year ago, but "it was not the same information," Lockhart said. "The detail this time was much more so than last time."
On July 15, 2003, Erica's body and skull were exhumed so a fourth reconstruction of her face could be done by a forensic anthropologist. The case has received national attention and been featured on television shows such as "Cold Case Files."
Three years ago, investigators considered the possibility she was Rilya Wilson, a missing 5-year-old girl from Florida. DNA testing eventually proved that theory wrong.