The girl whose decapitated body was found in a Kansas City, Mo., park was born when her mother was in an Oklahoma prison, but her whereabouts apparently never were monitored by state agencies during her short life, officials said.
Erica Michelle Marie Green was killed in April 2001, shortly before her fourth birthday. Her identity remained a mystery until last week, when Kansas City authorities charged a Muskogee couple, Michelle and Harrell Johnson, with the child's murder. The two waived extradition and left the Muskogee County jail Tuesday for the trip to Missouri, said jail supervisor Johnny Merrill.
Tuesday, a judge entered not-guilty pleas Tuesday for the mother and stepfather charged with murdering a little girl found beheaded in Kansas City four years ago.
Michelle Johnson, 30, and Harrell Johnson, 25, made their first court appearance in Missouri in the slaying of the young girl. The couple was returned to the state earlier in the day from an Oklahoma jail.
They each face one count of second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child. Jackson County Circuit Judge Margaret Sauer ordered Harrell Johnson held without bond. She set Michelle Johnson's bond at $500,000.
A spokesman for the prosecutor, John Liebnitz, said special precautions are going to be taken in this delicate, years-old case, reports WDAF in Kansas City, Mo.
"Security is going to be beefed up, at the courthouse, and each time these people appear in court because it was such a horrific crime and outraged the community so much that we have to be very careful in a case like this with security, and make sure they get through the process safely."
Neither the state Department of Corrections nor the Department of Human Services apparently followed up on the child's living arrangement after she was born, officials said.
"We don't do a damn thing," DOC spokesman Jerry Massie told the Tulsa World for a story published Tuesday.
Michelle Johnson, also known as Michelle Pierce, was serving time at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center for larceny when Erica was born in 1997, records show.
The child was taken in by Betty Brown, a friend of the baby's paternal grandmother, who took care of her until shortly before Michelle Johnson took her to Kansas City.
Prisoners cannot keep their babies while incarcerated, Massie said. So DOC officials allow family members, and sometimes friends, to take custody of the child, he said.
The Corrections Department also does not typically communicate with its counterparts in the Department of Human Services about particular infants born to prisoners, Massie said.
Department of Human Services spokesman Dustin Pyeatt would not specifically talk about the case. In general, though, his agency does not have the resources to keep track of every baby born to state prisoners unless some kind of specific neglect or threat is reported, he said.
"We don't deal with that," he said. "If a child is born in prison, the parents make arrangements to have the child stay with a relative."
In this case, it was Brown, who was friends with Betty Green, Erica's paternal grandmother, who became the child's unofficial foster mother. Brown met Michelle Johnson and agreed to take care of the child after she was born.
Brown said she last saw the child in early April 2001, when Johnson said she wanted to take Erica with her for a few days to go to a family reunion. The girl's body was found April 28, 2001.
"I wish this never happened to this baby," Brown said Friday. "She didn't deserve this. She was always so happy."
Brown attended a memorial service for the girl Saturday in Kansas City. She said she was touched by the people in the city who came to know the girl only after her death.
"My legs are rickety talking about it," Brown said.
Police say Harrell Johnson allegedly kicked the child in the head and later beheaded her with a pair of hedge clippers. Harrell and Michelle Johnson then dumped the child's body, investigators alleged.
Kansas City residents began calling the unidentified child "Precious Doe" and buried her in a cemetery there. An informant from Muskogee alerted authorities to the pair, authorities said last week.
Michelle Johnson had eight children, investigators said. The surviving siblings all were either in state custody or with other relatives, according to reports.