Continuance No. 4 in Rifle murder case |

Continuance No. 4 in Rifle murder case

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Heath Johnston

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Heath Johnston’s first-degree murder case was continued for the fourth time Tuesday morning.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Gail Nichols agreed to continue the arraignment hearing until June 9, but said that would be “the drop dead date,” and the case would have to move forward at that time.

Public Defender James Conway requested the continuance because he was still awaiting additional information regarding the case from the District Attorney’s Office. Conway also told the judge that Johnston’s mother was in town, from La Junta, which was “an important piece of the puzzle.”

“There has been a lot of work done in this case,” Conway said. “But we are not ready to move forward or to enter a plea at this time.”

Nichols again expressed concern that the case was stalling and that she wanted to make sure that counsel had enough time to prepare for the serious case, but at the next court date there would have to be some positive steps made, for Johnston’s benefit.

“I have a concern. I have been concerned since the beginning of the case,” Nichols said. “He is a young man, and he has been in custody since December, and we’ve made no progress in this case.”

Conway told Nichols that he felt that the amount of time spent on this case is not unusual, considering the severity of the charges against Johnston.

“This is a very serious case,” Conway said. “I appreciate your concern for Mr. Johnston.”

Conway added, “Four months is definitely within the realm of reason for this type of case.”

“I think everyone is concerned with what will happen to you in this case,” Nichols told Johnston. “This will be the last continuance in this case.”

Nichols continued the case for a third time in March awaiting a toxicology report on Johnston, but said at that time that by May 5, she wanted to have a plea entered and the case set for trial.

Conway confirmed that the defense has received the toxicology report on Johnston and would most likely be ready to proceed at the next court date.

Johnston, 20, was arrested on Dec. 15 in Rifle on suspicion of first-degree murder after police responded to a shooting that evening. Johnston is accused of shooting his brother, Sam Johnston, 26, in the head with a shotgun after Sam allegedly begged him to do so, according to the arrest affidavit.

Prosecutors charged Johnston with first-degree murder on Jan 8. If convicted on that charge he could potentially face a life sentence, or the death penalty.

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

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

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