Case stalls in slaying; plea deal possible

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Arraignment of a Rifle man accused of killing his brother in December was postponed for a fourth time Tuesday, amid signs a plea bargain might be considered.

District Court Judge Gail Nichols agreed to postpone action in the case of Heath Johnston until June 9 but called it a “drop-dead date” for attorneys.

Public defender Jim Conway told Nichols that defense attorneys continue to meet with prosecutors about the case but weren’t ready for a disposition.

“There’s been a lot of work put into this case since we were last here,” Conway said.

Johnston’s mother came to Glenwood Springs for his court appearance Tuesday and was scheduled to meet afterward with Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney.

Johnston has been held in Garfield County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond since being arrested Dec. 15 in connection with the shooting death of his brother, Samuel, 26, that same night at their home in Rifle. Heath Johnston has been charged with first-degree murder, which is punishable upon conviction by death or life in prison.

Investigators say Johnston told them he shot his brother at his brother’s request after Sam Johnston said he had been having trouble with his wife and wanted peace.

On Tuesday and in previous court proceedings, Nichols expressed frustration over the amount of time Johnston has languished in jail without the case moving forward.

Said Conway, “I appreciate your concern for Mr. Johnston, the amount of time he’s spent in jail, but I speak for him, and we want to have at least another four weeks.”

“This will be the last continuance,” Nichols responded in setting the June date. “If for some reason you want to do it earlier, faster, let me know.”


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