Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC82279
Gary Black was reversed and remanded (June, 2007) back to Jasper County for a new trial.
Case Facts: On the evening of October 2, 1998, Andrew Martin, Mark Wolfe and victim Jason O. Johnson met at a Joplin restaurant. After eating dinner and drinking beer, they decided to go to a downtown nightclub. Martin and the victim got into Martin’s 1996 Ford F-150 pickup, while Wolfe followed in his Camaro. En route, they stopped at a convenience store. Martin and Wolfe remained in their vehicles while the victim entered the store and purchased a 40-ounce bottle of beer and a can of chewing tobacco. While in line, the victim stood behind Tammy S. Lawson. The jury viewed a tape of the victim and Lawson together in line.
Lawson was the girlfriend of defendant Gary W. Black, who was also parked outside the store. When the victim exited the store, Lawson pointed him out to the defendant. (During the penalty phase, Lawson testified that she was upset and told defendant that the victim made “a pass” at her.) The victim and Martin then left the store in the pickup, with Wolfe following in his Camaro. Defendant and Lawson were in defendant’s car, close behind the Camaro.
When Martin stopped at the stoplight at 5th and Joplin, defendant pulled alongside in the right lane. Defendant began to “exchange words” with the victim. Defendant got out of his car, reached through the passenger window of the pickup, and stabbed the victim in the neck, nearly severing his carotid artery and completely severing his jugular vein.
Defendant immediately returned to his car. Victim left the pickup, staggered over to defendant’s car, and threw the bottle of beer at him. It is unclear whether the bottle struck defendant. (It did become clear during penalty phase that leaving the scene, defendant commented, “One nigger down,” and threw the knife out the car window.) Defendant then fled to Oklahoma.
The stab wound — 4.5 to 6 inches deep — bled profusely. Bystanders attempted to slow the bleeding with clothing and towels. Paramedics arrived to find the victim unresponsive, from massive blood loss. Blood drained into the victim’s airway, depriving him of oxygen. The victim died three days later.
Defendant was arrested in Oklahoma on a Missouri warrant. During inventory, police found an empty knife sheath in his car. Based on a statement by Tammy Lawson, an officer found the knife in a grassy area near a cemetery, about 20 blocks from the crime scene.
After deliberating less then two hours, the jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder. The jury later recommended the death penalty, finding two statutory aggravators — prior serious assaultive convictions and depravity of mind. The trial court sentenced the defendant to death.