DA won’t seek death penalty in Rifle slaying

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson has decided against seeking the death penalty in the case of a Rifle man accused of shooting and killing his brother last December.

Beeson announced his decision in a Nov. 3 court filing in the case of Heath Johnston, 20, who is accused of shooting his brother, Samuel, at their home in Rifle last Dec. 15. Johnston is charged with first-degree murder, which is punishable upon conviction by life in prison or potentially the death penalty.

The fact that the victim and the accused are part of the same family was a consideration for Beeson in deciding whether to pursue capital punishment.

“A death penalty is a punishment that needs to be used sparingly in my view and only in the most egregious of cases,” he said in an interview. “What we have here is a homicide in a family setting, and it just doesn’t seem appropriate to me to seek that penalty in this case.”

Johnston, who police say told them his brother was unhappy and asked to be killed, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He remains in Garfield County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.

Beeson had 60 days following Johnston’s arraignment to decide whether to pursue the death penalty, and he used most of the time allotted to him before announcing his decision.

Beeson said he has talked to the Johnston family on subjects including the death penalty, but he declined to share their views on the matter.

He said the cost of pursuing a capital case isn’t something he considers in deciding whether to seek “the ultimate penalty.”

Beeson said he hasn’t had a death-penalty case since becoming a prosecutor in the 9th Judicial District.

Beeson also is a Republican candidate in the 3rd Congressional District who hopes to unseat Democrat John Salazar next year.


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