The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 15, 2012

Lawsuit blames Oklahoma agencies for toddler's death


From The Associated Press

TULSA — A 3-year-old toddler murdered in 2001 might be alive today if two Oklahoma agencies had communicated better with each other, her father said in a federal lawsuit.

The father of Erica Green, who came to be known nationally as "Precious Doe" during the four years investigators tried to identify her remains, said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections should have notified the Oklahoma Department of Human Services when the infant was born five weeks after her mother went to prison.

Erica's mother, Michelle Johnson, was serving a sentence for larceny when she gave birth in a hospital and allowed an acquaintance take the child. Johnson also was allowed to reunite with Erica when she got out of prison, even though she had a history of drug abuse, the lawsuit says.

"If there had just been a phone call, the child would have been placed in DHS custody," Paul DeMuro , an attorney for Erica's father, told The Oklahoman. "I just don't think it's that much to ask for those times when a child is born in prison for those agencies to talk with each other."

A federal judge ruled in April that the lawsuit filed by the Erica's father, Larry Green, could proceed against the state agencies, which both deny any wrongdoing.

Green's attorneys want clear, written policies and procedures on how infants born to incarcerated mothers will be protected.

"Had there been a file opened on Erica when she was born, as there should have been, they never would have let the baby be reunified with the mother," DeMuro said.

Records show that over the past six years, Oklahoma Department of Corrections has an average of 14 pregnant inmates each month. Last year, 25 babies were born to female DOC inmates, the Tulsa World reported.

In 2008, Erica's mother was sentenced to 25 years in a Missouri prison for second-degree murder. Erica's killer, Harrell Johnson , was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Harrell and Michelle Johnson married after Erica's death.

Police have said Harrell Johnson admitted that under the influence of alcohol and the drug PCP, he became angry with Erica for refusing to go to bed and grabbed her, kicked her and threw her to the ground. After she died, he said he used hedge clippers to sever her head.