JOPLIN, Mo. — A Netflix program highlighting convicted killers who are sentenced to death features a 1998 Joplin murder in Season 4, titled “The Bogeyman.”
Last month, the Netflix show “I Am A Killer” focused on episode 5 of its latest season on Gary Black. Black was convicted of killing Jason Johnson, 28, of Joplin.
The episode begins with a man sitting in a wheelchair with long silvery hair and his wrists and ankles shackled. It’s Gary Black, the man who was initially sentenced to death for stabbing Johnson in the neck, killing him.
“There is nothing [that] matters to me. There’s nothing [that] means anything to me. I am who I am. Just a killer,” Black told the interviewer in the show. “What danger to society is a 71-year-old man in a wheelchair?”
Black goes on to say he grew up in McDonald County until the age of five when his biological family was killed in a car crash, leaving him the sole survivor. A Black family then adopted him in Joplin. He claims he was a pimp by the age of 17 to a number of sex workers at the Reddings Mill Inn.
Black goes on to recount the events on October 2, 1998, the day he killed Johnson.
“Tammy was a prospective prostitute,” he tells the interviewer. “Around 7:30 that evening, she offered to show me what she could do on a good Saturday night.”
Tammy Lawson, the woman Black claims was a prostitute, told Black that a man inside a convenience store where the duo had stopped touched her in a sexual way. Black says they chased the man who allegedly assaulted her, and when they caught up with him and his friends at an intersection at 5th and Joplin St., Black got out of his car and exchanged words with the man, who threw a beer bottle at him. Black says he retaliated by stabbing the man in the neck, severing the jugular vein and nearly severing his carotid artery, according to these court documents here.
Johnson was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead three days later on October 5th.
“It was just like a garden hose of water squirting,” Black said, referring to the blood that sprayed from Johnson’s neck.
Black says he then left the area, packed clothes, and left town.
In stark contrast to the picture painted by Black about his victim’s last moments, Johnson’s parents describe tender thoughts about their son, showing pictures of his childhood. They recount their time in the hospital with Johnson.
“I was there when my baby took his first breath, and unfortunately, I was there when my baby took his last breath,” said Charley Kibble Johnson, Jason Johnson’s mother.
Black was arrested in Oklahoma and police located a knife sheath connected to the murder weapon – and then found a knife about 20 blocks from the scene, near a cemetery according to these documents here.
“I do not regret the death of Jason Oscar Johnson,” Black said.
He also claims he saw the video footage of Johnson sexually assaulting Tammy. He gives a detailed synopsis of what he thinks he saw. However, viewers get an inside look at evidence files – including the store footage – that tells the real story.
Retired Joplin police detective, Darren Gallup, who worked the case, shares investigators’ belief that the killing was racially motivated. A member of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office also gives her insight into Black’s background while incarcerated in the Jasper County Jail, and his attitude towards officers.
In court, Black’s previous criminal record and assaults in prison were used as evidence in the sentencing phase. One instance involved a young Jackie Clark, Battalion Chief of the Webb City Fire Department.
Clark said he was parked near the outskirts of Joplin where Black boxed his car in and pretended to be a police officer. Black had him get out of his car and proceeded to shoot Clark in the back with a sawed-off shotgun and made off with the $7 in Clark’s wallet.
“I remember I could feel the blood running out my side, and I could feel the coldness creeping up my arms. Just cold, just like I was going numb, but it’s cold,” Clark told the show interviewer. “I was bleeding to death.”
Fortunately for Clark, paramedics were able to save his life.
In 1999, Black was found guilty and sentenced to death. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the conviction in that case and sent it back to the lower courts. In 2006, Black was found guilty and sentenced to death again by a Jasper County jury. That case was also overturned and sent back to the lower court.
In 2010, Black took a plea deal and entered and Alford Plea. As part of the plea agreement, he received life in prison without the chance of parole.
But there is more to the case than what can be dramatized in one show: This document here has the statement of facts (page 5) of what was recorded in court. It touches on the murder events, in-depth details of conflicting eyewitness accounts and reports, Black’s appeals and attempts to represent himself in court, and the death penalty.
As the American film producer and actor Robert Evans said, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.”
The episode ends with what one may consider a bitter message from Black to the taxpayers of Missouri.