Rifle murder trial canceled after plea deal reached | PostIndependent.com

Rifle murder trial canceled after plea deal reached

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The first-degree murder trial of former Rifle resident Heath Johnston, scheduled for next week, has been canceled, according to 9th Judicial District Court officials.

The trial reportedly was called off after the two sides in the case reached an undisclosed plea bargain.

News about the ending of the case, which has been in the courts for a year and nine months, quickly made its way through the Garfield County Courthouse on Thursday.

Security officers at the entrance to the courthouse had predicted being swamped by prospective jurors on Sept. 20, the day the trial was scheduled to begin. It was tentatively scheduled to last up to three full weeks.

Johnston, 21, apparently has pleaded guilty to killing his brother, Sam Johnston, by shooting him in the back of the head with a shotgun in December 2008, while Sam sat on a couch at his Rifle residence.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Johnston was facing possible sentences of life in prison or the death penalty.

Although officials in the court clerks’ office confirmed that the trial had been called off, calls to the attorneys in the case were not returned Thursday afternoon, and no further details about the plea bargain were available.

This is not the first time a plea bargain had been offered to Johnston.

In June 2009, according to news accounts, the attorneys in the case informed 9th Judicial District Judge Gail Nichols that a deal was in the works.

But the deal fell through, and in August 2009 Johnston entered a plea of “not guilty” to the charge.


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