Southwest Missouri man receives second death sentence for '98 slaying

Monday, May 8, 2006

JOPLIN, Mo. -- A southwest Missouri man was sentenced to death for the second time for a murder he committed in 1998.

Gary Black, 50, was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Jason O. Johnson, 28.

A previous conviction and death sentence by another Jasper County Circuit Court jury in 1999 were reversed in November 2004 by the Missouri Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial.

Black, who is white, was accused of stabbing Johnson, who was black, at a downtown Joplin intersection on Oct. 2, 1998. Johnson, of St. Louis, had brushed up against Black's then-girlfriend in a convenience store, and the woman testified during trial that she had thought Johnson was making a pass at her.

Johnson died three days later.

The Supreme Court overturned the first conviction on the grounds that Black did not have adequate representation because his public defenders failed to point out inconsistencies in the testimony of key witnesses.

After Black was convicted on Friday and the jury returned its death sentence, Circuit Judge Jon Dermott set formal sentencing for June 9.

Johnson's parents, Oscar and Charley Johnson, and two older brothers attended the trial.

The trial reopened "an old wound," Oscar Johnson said.

"But we're satisfied with the outcome, and hopefully the state of Missouri will have another opportunity to make it right," he said.

Family members said they believe the murder was a racial hate crime.

The case qualified for the death penalty under state law because Black had previous convictions for armed robbery and first-degree assault in Newton County in 1976.

Jackie Clark, a Webb City Fire Department captain, testified during the penalty phase that Black had shot him with a sawed-off shotgun in a robbery when Clark was 18 years old.

His spleen, part of a lung and part of his intestines had to be removed, Clark said.


Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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