MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 1, 2013

Settlement reached in lawsuit over ‘Precious Doe’ murder

Deal includes rules to get inmates’ infants into DHS custody

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A settlement has been reached in the case of a Muskogee girl’s father who sued the state as well as OU Medical Center over the death of his daughter, who was known as Precious Doe, attorneys said Thursday.

Larry Green filed the lawsuit against the state Department of Human Services, Department of Corrections and the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in 2010, nine years after Erica Green’s beheaded body was found in a wooded area of Kansas City, Mo., and five years after the body was identified.

Larry Green’s attorneys, Paul DeMuro and Sarah Poston, said the settlement includes an unspecified payment and calls for the DOC, DHS and the OU Medical Center to develop procedures to be known as “Erica’s Rule” to ensure that babies born to prison inmates are referred to DHS for placement in a safe home.

“That was the primary goal of this lawsuit,” DeMuro and Poston said in a statement. “We are grateful that the agencies involved were willing to adopt new policies that, hopefully, will ensure babies of incarcerated mothers are placed in a safe environment.”

The attorneys did not immediately respond to a phone call for additional comment.

Erica was born at the OU Medical Center in 1997 while her mother, Michelle Johnson of Muskogee, was in prison. Documents show the child was first placed in the custody of a family friend and later returned to Johnson and Harrell Johnson, her then-boyfriend, later husband, also of Muskogee.

Authorities say the child was taken from Muskogee to Kansas City, where Harrell Johnson killed Erica with a kick to the head. They say the Johnsons left the girl’s naked body in a wooded area.

Michelle Johnson was convicted of second-degree murder in the case and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Harrell Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Larry Green, who was also in prison at the time of his daughter’s birth, filed the lawsuit alleging negligence and wrongful death in 2010, asking for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and legal expenses.

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said the settlement is primarily an agreement between the corrections department and the hospital, which was dismissed from the original lawsuit.

“This new procedure will just involve the safe placement of a child after the birth,” Powell said. “Before, there was no requirement for DOC to notify DHS of births of children to an inmate.”

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