The man convicted of killing and beheading a 3-year-old girl known for years as "Precious Doe" wrote numerous jailhouse letters to his wife, urging her to change her story and reject a plea deal.
The Kansas City Star, which obtained the letters through a public-records request with Jackson County prosecutors, reported Monday that Harrell Johnson's letters to Michelle Johnson assured her they could beat the case and proposed a possible new story that blamed the death of her daughter, Erica Green, on another man.
Michelle Johnson ended up pleading guilty in the 2001 death and agreed to testify against Harrell Johnson, whom she married after Erica died. Her decision to testify changed his tone from loving and concerned to threatening and vulgar.
"And now (I'm going to) make sure you get ran over personally," he wrote in a letter dated Sept. 8, 2008, about a month before his trial. "Tell 'em how you use to beat and leave Erica in that room with no TV, no nothing ... for hours while you ... smoked (crack)."
Later in the rant, he added, "(your) time on this earth is real short, you can believe that ... it's on sight."
Michelle Johnson testified at Harrell Johnson's trial that he was high on drugs and kicked Erica in the head because the girl wouldn't go to bed. She said she and Johnson, 29, didn't seek medical help for Erica for fear of going to jail on outstanding warrants in other cases.
Sentenced to life in prison
Prosecutors said Johnson decapitated the girl and dumped her body in woods. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Michelle Johnson, 33, was sentenced to 25 years in the murder.
The girl's remains went unidentified for four years after they were found. During that time, she was referred to by the community and in the news media as "Precious Doe."
The letters begin in 2002 when Harrell Johnson was in an Oklahoma prison on stolen property, weapons and drug offenses. They end while he awaits trial in a Jackson County jail.
In a letter dated Aug. 3, 2007, he recommends that he and Michelle change their stories to include a man, "mike-mike," who agrees to take Erica to a family friend in Muskogee, Okla. Harrell Johnson suggests they say after they paid "mike-mike" $35 they put Erica in his car and never saw her again.
Kenton Hall, Harrell Johnson's attorney, said he learned about most of the letters about a year before his client's trial. He said the "mike-mike" story was one of several distractions as he and his fellow defense lawyers tried to keep Harrell focused on the case.
"We knew he was trying to phony up a story, and we didn't pursue that at trial," Hall said. "This was a big struggle throughout the history of the case, trying to get him on the same page with us."