Possible plea deal in Rifle murder case
Rifle, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado – An undisclosed plea deal is on the table in the first-degree murder case against Heath Johnston, who stands accused of shooting and killing his brother, Sam Johnston, in Rifle on Dec. 15, 2008.
A June 16 deadline has been set for the deal to be accepted, Assistant 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney said at a hearing before 9th District Judge Gail Nichols in Glenwood Springs Tuesday. Nichols scheduled the case for a preliminary hearing on July 8.
If the plea is not accepted in the meantime, the district attorney would present evidence at the July hearing against Johnston. The judge will then determine if probable cause exists to take the case to trial.
Attorneys in the case did not specify the terms of the possible plea deal at Tuesday’s hearing. Cheney declined to discuss the details of the case after the hearing.
Tuesday’s hearing was the fourth continuance in Johnston’s case since he was officially charged in early January with first-degree murder.
Johnston, 20, was arrested Dec. 15, 2008, in Rifle after police responded to a call of a shooting around 7:23 p.m. at a residence in the 700 block of East Avenue.
Neighbors pointed to a nearby home where officers saw Johnston standing on the porch with his hands up, according to an arrest affidavit.
Johnston allegedly said during and after his arrest that he shot Sam Johnston, 26, after he allegedly begged to be killed, saying he had been having troubles with his wife and “couldn’t get peace,” police said. A neighbor reportedly said he heard similar statements.
Sam Johnston died from a shotgun blast to the back of the head while he was sitting on a couch in the home, police said. Police found an open cell phone on his chest and an empty bottle of liquor near his hip, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Heath Johnston claimed in a police interview that his brother had asked him and other family members to shoot him, and that he’d been arguing with his brother before agreeing to shoot him, police said.
Police also seized a shotgun, two rifles, ammunition and suspected drug paraphernalia during a search of the home.
Heath Johnston remains in the Garfield County Jail on $2 million bond.
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