Brett L. Johnson, who led a frightened 16-year-old boy to his death, can't use the "My lawyers sucked" defense to weasel out of his prison time.
In the fall of 1999, Johnson, then 18, and some buddies were planning to rob a grocery store. When they sensed that Jimmy Weber, the juvenile getaway driver of this imagined heist, was getting cold feet, Johnson and partner James Boyd came up with a plan to stab him to death in a woody area off Searcy Creek Parkway. "You know, Jimmy's not coming out of the woods tonight," Johnson icily told a female friend who had been brought along to give Weber a false sense of comfort.
A short distance away, Boyd stabbed Weber 28 times as he pleaded for his life.
Ultimately, four people were charged in Weber's death. Lindsay Harper, the female friend, and Adam Lile, who drove the car that September night, pleaded guilty to abandoning a corpse.
Boyd was found guilty of first-degree murder, a conviction that was later overturned. An appeals court said Boyd was entitled to a new trial because the Clay County court judge should have allowed his attorney to present evidence that he had Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder. In 2007, awaiting re-trial, Boyd entered an "Alford plea" in which he did not admit his guilt but agreed that there was enough evidence to convict him of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He received a 10-year prison sentence.
At the time of his arrest, Johnson confessed to detectives that Weber was killed because he and his friends were afraid he was going to go the police. At trial, he changed his story and said that he did not know why Boyd stabbed Weber. But testimony suggested that Johnson was the manipulator in the group. His ex-girlfriend told the jury that Boyd acted on Johnson's orders and that Johnson once threatened that Boyd would "take a bath in her blood" if she did not shut her mouth.
After two mistrials because the juries couldn't unanimously agree on his monstrosity, Johnson was found guilty of first-degree murder.
A man with nothing but time on his hands and warden-approved flip-flops on his feet, Johnson, now 29, appealed on the grounds that his lawyers messed up. Among other complaints, Johnson thinks his counsel mishandled the part of his trial when the jury learned about Kill Without Joy and other books that Boyd kept at his duplex (and that Johnson said he had "leafed through").
Nice try, says the Court of Appeals in western Missouri, which ruled on Tuesday that the evidence of Johnson's guilt is overwhelming. Johnson, an inmate at the state prison in Cameron, will continue serving a life sentence.