In the opinion, the justices ruled that Black should have been permitted to act as his own attorney, a request that was denied by Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Jon Dermott:
The record here leaves no doubt that Black asserted his right both unequivocally and in a timely manner. At least five times, beginning more than a year before the retrial began, Black made clear to the trial court that he did not want an attorney to represent him, with at least three of his written requests citing Faretta for the proposition that his right to represent himself was fundamental. After the trial court clearly rejected Black's unequivocal and timely assertion of his right to represent himself, he was not required to make further fruitless motions or forgo cooperation with defense counsel to preserve the issue for appeal. The record also fails to establish that Black's waiver of counsel was not intelligent and knowing. As such, the trial court erred in refusing to honor Black's requests to represent himself simply because it believed his attorneys could do better.
The opinion includes the following exchange between Black and Judge Dermott:
COURT: . . . Mr. Black, it appears to me that assigned counsel are working diligently on your behalf. They have the benefit of law degrees and experience in criminal cases. It seems to the Court that you're much better served by having counsel than not having counsel. And so for that reason I'm going to overrule the motion. If you want to retain counsel of your choosing, why the Court would permit you to do that. But in the absence of retained counsel, the Court thinks you're better served by having capable counsel. The Court will make a docket entry simply overruling that motion.
MR. BLACK: In other words, you don't think I'm qualified to represent myself, Your Honor?
COURT: That's true. I think you're less qualified than your attorney. As far as I know you have not been to law school and have not defended criminal cases, you're not licensed to practice law, and so I would assume that assigned counsel is more capable than you of representing you.
The following background on the case is taken from the Sept. 22, 2005, Turner Report:
It wasn't the first time Jason Johnson had heard the names. When you're African-American and live in southwest Missouri, the unfortunate fact of life is there are going to be times when you're going to be called every vile racial epithet in the book. But this time was different. This was the last time anyone would ever call Jason Johnson by that evil name, that six-letter word that starts with the letter n.
The fountain of red spurting from his throat spelled the end of the line for Jason. In a few moments, he would pass out due to lack of oxygen. After he was rushed to Freeman Hospital, it was determined quickly that he had suffered brain damage. Within a couple of days, Jason Johnson, a student at Missouri Southern State College, was dead. He had drowned in his own blood, the victim of a fatal stabbing. The man who stabbed him, Gary Black, 44, Joplin, was arrested shortly afterward in Oklahoma. An officer attempted to give him the Miranda warning. Black snarled, "F--- the Miranda warning. You tell that m-----f----- Dankelson (Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney Dean Dankelson) that I never attempted to kill anybody. The people I've attempted to kill, I've killed. Remember that, remember that." He pointedly added, "Cops, too."
Gary Black was no stranger to crime long before he ever met Jason Johnson. At the age of 21 in 1976, he robbed a Newton County man and shot him in the back. He was sentenced to prison where he did not make any friends.
At the sentencing phase of his trial in Jasper County Circuit Court, a Department of Corrections official noted that Black had committed assault five times during his decade-long prison stay. Black received a new three-year lease on life in November 2001 when the Missouri Supreme Court stayed his execution. Now his attorneys are throwing everything into their appeal and hoping that something sticks.
The details of Black's crime are laid out in documents filed with the Missouri Supreme Court. The road to Gary Black's execution began Oct. 2, 1998, in Joplin. Jason Johnson finished his work at a store at Northpark Mall in the later afternoon and joined his friends, Andrew Martin and Mark Wolfe, at Garfield's for a few beers. They left at 9:30 p.m. and stopped at a convenience store, according to the court records. Johnson bought some more beer and some tobacco. He stood in line with a woman named Tammy Lawson, Gary Black's girlfriend. It was that fateful coincidence that ended up costing Johnson his life. Court records indicate that Ms. Lawson went to Black's car and told him that Johnson had said something "perverted" to her while they were standing in line. She pointed him out as he left the store. Johnson opened the passenger-side door on Martin's pickup and they drove away, followed by Wolfe in his Camaro, and though they didn't know it, by Black and Ms. Lawson.
Johnson, Martin, and Wolfe were headed toward the Dolphin Club. When Martin stopped at the light at 5th and Joplin, Black pulled alongside him in the right lane. The cars stopped in front of the club. Black and Johnson shouted at each other. Martin testified at Black's trial that Black leaped out of his car, reached through the passenger window of Martin's pickup, and stabbed Johnson in the neck, severing his jugular vein and nearly severing his carotid artery. Before he left his car he told Ms. Lawson he was going to "hurt that n-----." As he walked away after stabbing Johnson, he said, "One n----- down."Johnson was able to get out of the pickup and came at Black with a 40-ounce beer bottle. He managed to throw it at him. Black got back into his car and drove away. Blood was flowing everywhere. Bystanders did what they could to help Johnson, using towels and clothing to attempt to stay the flow. Paramedics arrived and did what they could, but it was too little, too late. Black had effectively executed Jason Johnson.
At the trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that the murder was premeditated. By following Johnson, then killing him, Black had shown cool reflection. It was the first time in nearly four decades that a Jasper County jury had handed out a death sentence.