Trial set for man accused of shooting, killing brother

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A judge on Tuesday set a three-week trial for April in the case of Heath Johnston, accused of shooting and killing his brother a year ago in Rifle.

Judge Gail Nichols set the trial for April 12–30.

Johnston, 21, is accused of shooting Samuel Johnston, 26, at their home in Rifle on Dec. 15, 2008. Police say Johnston told them his brother was unhappy and asked to be killed.

Johnston has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. On Nichols’ order, Johnston was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for an evaluation, the results of which are under court seal. His public defenders are considering whether to request that he be allowed to undergo a second evaluation by an expert of their choosing.

Johnston has the option of withdrawing the insanity element of his not guilty plea before the trial. In that case, the trial likely would be shorter because the question of sanity wouldn’t be a part of it.

Johnston is charged with first-degree murder, which can be punishable upon conviction by life in prison or potentially the death penalty. Martin Beeson, district attorney for the Ninth Judicial District, recently decided against pursuing capital punishment in the case, saying the fact that both the victim and the accused are part of the same family was a consideration in his decision.

Johnston remains in Garfield County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.


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