Judge grants another delay in Rifle murder case

Johnston held in lieu of $2 million bond in Garfield County Jail

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A judge Tuesday morning reluctantly further delayed arraignment of a Rifle man on a murder charge because attorneys still await evidence, including toxicology results, from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

District Court Judge Gail Nichols agreed to postpone the arraignment of Heath Johnston for a second time, but voiced discomfort over the delay.

“Obviously I want to get this going. Mr. Johnston has been in custody for quite a while,” Nichols said.

Johnston is due back in court March 24. He has been 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.

Nichols said she knows the CBI is busy, but prosecutors need to prod the agency to get toxicology results back because of the serious nature of the case.

“The idea is to keep pressure on CBI because they are inundated. I know they are overloaded,” she said.

Nichols previously indicated the toxicology results could have a bearing in the case. In an order that Heath Johnston provide blood and urine samples and other bodily evidence, she wrote that the samples “may aggravate or mitigate defendant’s criminal behavior.”

Investigators say they found a pipe and other possible drug paraphernalia in the Johnstons’ house. In addition, Sam Johnston’s body was found with an empty liquor bottle near his hip.

Sam Johnston died of a gunshot wound to the head. Heath Johnston surrendered without resistance when police showed up minutes after the shooting.

Police say a shotgun was left on the floor in the room where Sam Johnston died, and he was found with his cell phone folded open, his hands crossed over his stomach and an unlit cigarette in his left hand.

Investigators say Heath 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.


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