Judge upholds first-degree murder charge in Rifle slaying
July 9, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Prosecutors proved that there is sufficient evidence to support a trial in the first-degree murder case against Heath Johnston.
Judge Gail Nichols of the Ninth Judicial District Court on Wednesday upheld District Attorney Martin Beeson’s decision to seek the charges.
At the preliminary hearing in Garfield County District Court, Beeson argued Johnston made a “conscious decision” to shoot his brother, Sam Johnston, in the back of the head with a shotgun on Dec. 15 at his Rifle residence. Nichols agreed.
“The judge did the right thing,” Beeson said after the hearing. “I was confident that this would be the result of the preliminary hearing.”
Nichols set an arraignment date for Aug. 11, at which time, she told Public Defender Steve 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.
McCrohan argued second-degree murder charges were more appropriate, contending Heath Johnston did not act deliberately or with intent, but rather was “beguiled” and “begged” by Sam Johnston to shoot him.
Recommended Stories For You
“If you accept Mr. Beeson’s argument, there really would never be murder in the second degree,” McCrohan said.
Heath Johnston was arrested the same night of the shooting. An autopsy report concluded that Sam Johnston did die from the shotgun blast, according to testimony from Rifle police Lt. J. R. Boulton, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Johnston faces possible life in prison or the death penalty.
He remained in the Garfield County jail on a $2 million bond.