Rifle murder case likely moving to trial | VailDaily.com

Rifle murder case likely moving to trial

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Heath Johnston

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Prosecutors proved that there is sufficient evidence to support a trial in the first-degree murder case against Heath Johnston.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Gail Nichols upheld District Attorney Martin Beeson’s decision to seek first-degree murder charges in the case at a preliminary hearing in Garfield County District Court Wednesday.

Beeson argued that Johnston made a “conscious decision,” and was “deliberate” and acted with “intent” when he allegedly shot his brother, Sam Johnston, 26, in the back of the head with a shotgun on December 15 at his Rifle residence.

Heath Johnston was arrested for the alleged shooting the same night of the incident.

Beeson questioned Rifle Police Lt. J. R. Boulton about the investigation and interview with Heath Johnston the night of the murder. Boulton told the court that Heath Johnston told his nephew, which was Sam’s 11-year-old son, to go into the basement, turn the television up loud, and cover his head with pillows. Boulton also told the court that Heath Johnston and Sam’s son both told him, in separate interviews, that Sam also asked his son to shoot him before asking Heath Johnston to do it.

Beeson argued that the moment Heath Johnston asked his nephew to go downstairs was the critical moment.

“This is the critical point where the defendant made the decision to shoot his brother,” Beeson said.

Boulton also told the court that the son told him that his father had asked him to come up from the basement, gather his things, and go to his grandmother’s house, which was about two miles away. Boulton said that the son told him that, at that moment, he saw Heath attempting to load a shotgun. Boulton said that the son left for his grandmother’s house before the shooting.

Public Defender Steve McCrohan argued that second-degree murder charges were more appropriate in this particular incident saying that Heath Johnston did not act deliberately or with intent, but rather was “beguiled” and “begged”, by Sam Johnston, to shoot him.

“If you accept Mr. Beeson’s argument, there really would never be murder in the second degree,” McCrohan said.

But Beeson said the facts alone prove probable cause.

“We have shown probable cause that the crime of first-degree murder was committed by the defendant,” Beeson told Nichols.

Judge Nichols agreed.

“The judge did the right thing,” Beeson said after the hearing concluded. “I was confident that this would be the result of the preliminary hearing.”

Judge Nichols set an arraignment date for August 11, at which time, she told McCrohan, she expects a plea from the defendant in the case. McCrohan did request 45 days to allow more time for further investigation. And while Nichols was hesitant to grant the request, she ultimately complied.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Johnston could face possible penalties of life in prison or the death penalty. Beeson said that he has not yet decided to seek the death penalty in the case. However, he has 60 days after Johnston enters a plea to make a decision.

McCrohan and Public Defender James Conway declined to comment after the hearing.

Johnston remains in the Garfield County Jail on $2 million bond.


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