Prosecution presents case in Joplin stabbing trial

Bradley D. Cook

Prosecutors presented their case Monday in the trial of a 33-year-old defendant accused of stabbing another man outside the Watered Gardens rescue ministry in Joplin in a fight two years ago that cost the victim a leg.

Eleven women and two men were seated during jury selection — with one to serve as an alternate — for the trial in Jasper County Circuit Court of Bradley D. Cook on charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The trial will continue Tuesday.

Assistant Prosecutor J.D. Hatcher told jurors during opening statements that Cook initiated physical contact with Allen Johnson, 23, with a push Oct. 28, 2017, on the sidewalk outside the entrance to Watered Gardens at 531 S. Kentucky Ave. The ensuing fight between the two men was over within 10 seconds, with Johnson being stabbed three times, Hatcher said.

"At no point was Allen armed, and you'll see, he did not even have anything in his hands," Hatcher told the jury.

He said testimony would show that Cook fled the scene and hid the knife he used in an alley a few blocks away before being stopped and arrested by police. He then told the arresting officer where she could find the weapon, the prosecutor told the jury.

Public defender Craig Lowe made a self-defense claim for his client in response to Hatcher's opening statement. Lowe said Johnson was the initial aggressor in the incident, coming out of the Watered Gardens building "cussing" at Cook and threatening him. He said Cook just wanted Johnson to calm down, but Johnson had him down on the ground and was pummeling him when Cook was forced to make the "split-second" decision to use his knife to protect himself.

"He didn't know if he was going to go to the hospital or maybe the morgue," Lowe told jurors.

The prosecution played a video of the fight during the testimony of its first witness, 50-year-old Brian Kempf, a former house manager at the Souls Harbor shelter in Joplin, who was a resident at Watered Gardens at the time and was sitting on the front steps of the rescue ministry when the fight began in front of him.

He testified that Johnson was "kind of in an aggressive stance" at the start of the confrontation.

"Allen was telling Bradley Cook to stand up and be a man," Kempf recalled.

He admitted some uncertainty as to what other words may have passed between the two before physical contact began. But it was Cook who initiated that contact by pushing Johnson back with the broom he had in his hands, he said.

"How certain are you, though, that it was Bradley Cook who started the fight?" Hatcher asked.

"I'm very certain about that," Kempf replied.

He said he never saw a knife in Cook's hand and did not know a weapon was involved until the two disengaged and he heard Johnson ask while still down on the ground: "You stabbed me?"

Kempf said Cook replied: "Damn right I did."

Johnson testified that he was stabbed first in the back of his knee and then his back and a lung.

Johnson ended up having to have his right leg amputated at the knee.

He testified that he did not know Cook prior to contact with him at Watered Gardens. He said Cook had "shoulder-checked" him in passing once prior to the day of the stabbing and he had turned and asked him: "Excuse me, do you have a problem?"

Johnson said Cook's only response was the he did not have to talk to Johnson.

Johnson testified that he has trouble recalling exactly what passed between them the day of the stabbing. He just recalls being pushed and confronting Cook about it.

On cross-examination by Lowe, he said he did not recall previously telling a detective that Cook had followed him outside the building or that he was starting to walk away when Cook first pushed him. He said he also did not recall previously testifying that Cook tried to push him twice but missed both times.

State rests

The prosecution rested its case at the end of the day Monday with the presentation of testimony by Bradley Cook's arresting officer and a Joplin police detective.

Cpl. Ketrina Jones testified that Cook had blood on his hands and coat when she stopped him at 10th and Main streets the night of a stabbing at Watered Gardens. Cook told her where she could find the knife he placed behind the box of an electrical pole in an alley in the 800 block of South Main Street, Jones said.

She identified a knife with a serrated blade about 3.5 inches long that was presented in court on Monday as the weapon she found two years ago where Cook told her he stashed it after the stabbing.

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