A Jasper County jury deliberated about an hour Tuesday before convicting Bradley Cook of first-degree assault and armed criminal action in a stabbing that cost Allen Johnson his right leg.
A jury of 10 women and two men found Cook, 33, guilty on both counts at the conclusion of a two-day trial in Jasper County Circuit Court during which Cook claimed to have been acting in self-defense when he stabbed the 23-year-old victim three times with a knife during a fight two years ago outside the front entrance of the Watered Gardens rescue mission in downtown Joplin.
Cook took the witness stand Tuesday, telling jurors that he was forced to stab Johnson to protect himself.
"I just wanted him to quit attacking me," he testified.
His account conflicted with Johnson's testimony on Monday as to who was the initial aggressor in their altercation Oct. 28, 2017, as well as to who had the upper hand when he decided to use the knife.
Cook claimed Johnson came at him "out of the blue," getting right up in his face, calling him names and chest bumping him before Cook pushed him away with a broom he had in one hand. He said he pushed Johnson because he found himself backed up to the edge of the curb separating the sidewalk from the parking lot and wanted to create some distance between them.
But Johnson came back at him and the fight was on, he said.
"He started hitting me in the head and punched me in the chin so hard it rocked me," Cook said.
He testified that his shoulder became dislocated early in the fight with Johnson, rendering him less able to defend himself.
"Did you think there was an end in sight to the fight?" public defender Craig Lowe asked Cook.
"I didn't see one," he replied.
Cook said he just happened to have been cutting up boxes as part of his chores at the mission and still had a folding knife in one of his hands and the broom in the other when Johnson approached him. He further testified on direct examination by his lawyer that he had noticed the boots Johnson was wearing and believed them to be steel-toed. He claimed to be in fear that Johnson might kick him with those boots and cause him a more serious injury.
Lowe tried to show in his direct examination of his client and in closing arguments that Cook was forced to make "a split-second decision" with regard to use of the knife because the entire fight took just 10 to 12 seconds. Assistant Prosecutor J.D. Hatcher emphasized in his cross-examination of the defendant and during closing arguments that Cook had several other options than to introduce deadly force to a fistfight and that his actions in the aftermath reflected a consciousness of guilt.
Hatcher walked the defendant through slow-motion replays of a security camera video of the altercation, first pressing him to specify at what point he was claiming that he had been punched in the face. The video clearly shows Johnson throwing punches, but it is unclear that any landed on the defendant's chin as he claimed.
Hatcher also had the video stopped at a point at which the prosecutor maintained Cook first stabbed Johnson in the back of his knee. The wound cost Johnson his leg, which later had to be amputated because of the extent of injury it caused. Cook testified that he did not consciously stab Johnson there and did not realize he had until his lawyer informed him of it well after his arrest.
The prosecutor had the video forwarded to a frame moments later in the fight when Johnson had fallen to the sidewalk and was on his back with Cook on top of him.
"Do you feel you have the upper hand at this point?" Hatcher asked.
"No, I'm not feeling I have the upper hand because my arm is dislocated and I'm in a lot of pain," Cook replied.
"What did you do next with the knife?"
"I stabbed him twice," Cook said. In the back and right lung, according to the medical testimony of the previous day.
"Why?" Hatcher asked.
Cook said he felt it necessary to defend himself. Why not use his fists instead since he was the one on top? the prosecutor wanted to know.
"It was a split-second decision," Cook replied.
Why did he then leave and walk south from Watered Gardens to the point of his arrest at 10th and Main? Hatcher asked. Why not go back inside, call police and explain what happened? Why not walk north to the Joplin Police Department if he was in fear of anyone else at the mission? Why did he attempt to hide the knife in an alley?
"I was just putting distance between myself and the whole situation," Cook offered as the principal explanation of his actions in the aftermath.