Murder case likely moving to trial |

Murder case likely moving to trial

Heath Johnston

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – 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 Wednesday at a preliminary hearing in Garfield County District Court.

Beeson argued that Johnston made a “conscious decision” to shoot his brother, Sam Johnston, in the back of the head with a shotgun on December 15 at his Rifle residence. 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 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 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.

Heath Johnston was arrested for allegedly shooting his brother in the back of the head with a shotgun on December 15, the same night of the shooting. An autopsy report concluded that Sam Johnston did die from a shotgun blast to the back of the head, according to testimony from Rifle Police Lt. J. R. Boulton, who testified at the hearing Wednesday.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Johnston could face possible penalties of life in prison or the death penalty.

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

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