October 3, 1981, was a warm sunny day. Early that morning, 45-year-old used-car salesman Joseph Giovanni was anxious to make a sale. Giovanni worked at Johnny Harris Pontiac on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. At 9:10 a.m., he spotted his first customers. They were two black men, about 19 or 20 years old as far as Giovanni could tell. One stood nearly six feet tall and had short black hair and long arms. His companion, whose stockier frame measured about five feet, eight inches, wore his hair in long cornrows. The tall one was a 19-year-old from Fort Lauderdale named Jackie Johnson. The other was 18-year-old Henry Lee Jones.
They were interested in a used car, Jones told Giovanni. Then he showed the salesman $600 in cash for a down payment. "He claimed his wife had credit, had a car financed with the bank," Giovanni later said in court testimony, "and they seemed like buyers to me." The salesman showed his customers around the lot for about 15 minutes. Then the pair spotted a ride they liked: a tan 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Giovanni walked back to the office for a dealer license plate. Joel Kay, a fellow car salesman, pulled Giovanni aside. "You're not going to take a ride, are you?" Kay said.
"Yes," Giovanni responded. "They showed me money."
"Boy," Kay said, "you better be careful."
Giovanni and his two customers headed north on Federal Highway. Jones was driving. Johnson sat in back. Giovanni took the passenger seat. A few minutes into the ride, Jones turned into a residential area. "What do you think?" Jones repeatedly asked his back-seat companion. "What do you think?"
Then Jones slammed down the accelerator. The engine roared louder and louder as he zipped through the neighborhood. Giovanni knew he was in trouble. "That was when I turned... and the gun was pointed at my head from the taller one in the back seat," Giovanni remembered.
"Keep it cool, motherfucker," Jones warned. "Keep it cool."
For the next ten minutes, Jones drove around as Johnson kept the gun steady on Giovanni. The driver then spotted a vacant area with trees and shrubbery. It was perfect. Jones pulled in and ordered Giovanni out of the car.
Johnson continued to point the pistol at Giovanni as Jones led the used-car salesman to the back of the Grand Prix. Jones bent Giovanni over the trunk, facedown, and rifled through his pockets, taking about $40 in cash and four or five credit cards. Next, he pulled the man up and opened the trunk. "Then they, under gunpoint, told me to get in," Giovanni remembered.
About 10 a.m., the Grand Prix arrived at 2400 SW First St. in Fort Lauderdale, where Jones' girlfriend lived. Annie Mae Robbins was asleep. Jones woke her. "Let's go," he said.
As they drove, Robbins, who was seated in the back, heard a muffled voice from the trunk. It sounded like a man. "Let me out!" it said.
"What's that?" Robbins asked. The two men laughed.
About two hours later, Giovanni recalled, the Grand Prix stopped. Jones opened the trunk. "Get out of the trunk, motherfucker," Jones told him. Johnson stood nearby with the gun drawn. They were in the middle of an orange grove west of U.S. 441 in Lake Worth.
"I walked about 23 paces, and they shoved me underneath an orange tree," Giovanni said. "I thought I was going to be killed."
But then he heard the Grand Prix drive away.
State Trooper J.H. Cooper, a 14-year Florida Highway Patrol veteran, was driving on State Road 200 just north of Jacksonville at 7:05 a.m. on October 4, 1981. As he approached the Duval County line, he saw a Grand Prix barreling toward him. He clocked it at 75 miles per hour and immediately gave chase, then pulled over the vehicle.
Cooper walked up to the Grand Prix and asked for Jones' license and registration. He began to stroll back to the patrol car as Jones looked for the documents.
"What are you going to do?" Robbins recalled asking her boyfriend.
"I'll go to jail," came the response. Then he cranked up the engine and sped away. Cooper ran back to the car and requested backup. He followed the Grand Prix north.
They continued for about one mile, Cooper recalled in court testimony, and then turned east and traveled for approximately two miles, reaching speeds upward of 110 miles per hour. Finally, Jones turned left onto an unmarked dirt road. Cooper knew the road ended at a paper mill one mile away. But Jones didn't. He continued north at top speed as Cooper slowed down.