Bradley Cook's insistence that he acted in self-defense in the stabbing of another man two years ago at the Watered Gardens Rescue Mission in downtown Joplin did not play well in court Monday when a judge sentenced him to a total of 40 years behind bars.
Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane assessed Cook 25 years for first-degree assault and 15 years for armed criminal action in the stabbing that cost 23-year-old Allen Johnson his right leg. The judge ordered that the sentences run consecutively.
A jury convicted the 33-year-old defendant of the charges at the conclusion of a two-day trial in September. He was prosecuted as a prior and persistent offender; his sentencing befell the judge rather than the jury under state law. He had a prior felony conviction for burglary in Laclede County as well as some convictions for misdemeanor assaults.
He faced from 10 to 30 years or up to life on the assault conviction alone.
Trial testimony established that Cook stabbed Johnson three times with a knife during a fight Oct. 28, 2017, outside the front entrance to Watered Gardens at 531 S. Kentucky Ave. Both men were homeless and staying at the mission at the time.
Cook took the witness stand at his trial in an attempt to convince jurors that he was forced to stab Johnson to protect himself. But his account conflicted substantially with that of Johnson as to who was the initial aggressor as well as to who had the upper hand when he decided to use the knife.
The altercation was caught on video by a surveillance camera at the mission, and the jury did not buy Cook's explanation of why he introduced a lethal weapon to a fistfight.
Assistant Prosecutor J.D. Hatcher said after Monday's hearing that Cook still refused to take responsibility for his actions at the sentencing hearing. While the defendant expressed regret that Johnson's leg had to be amputated as a result of the fight, he continued to insist that he acted in self-defense.
Hatcher had argued at trial that Cook had several options other than use of the knife — which Cook said he happened to have in his hand to cut up some boxes as part of the chores he had been assigned at the mission — and that his actions in the aftermath reflected a consciousness of guilt.
Cook left the mission immediately after the stabbing and hid the knife in an alley before being stopped by police and arrested. The prosecutor said after Monday's sentencing that Cook has never provided an adequate reason why he did not stay and explain to police what happened if he was innocent of any wrongdoing, or why he failed to flag down either of two police officers who passed him as he was walking away down Main Street.
Cook's explanation at trial was that he was just "putting distance between myself and the whole situation."
Allen Johnson was stabbed in the back of a knee and in his back and a lung during a confrontation with Bradley Cook at Watered Gardens. Johnson's right leg ended up having to be amputated at the knee.