Plea deal pursued for man accused of killing brother

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A judge Tuesday set a preliminary hearing in the case of a Rifle man accused of fatally shooting his brother.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Gail Nichols set the hearing in the case of Heath Johnston, 20, for July 8.

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

Proceedings in Johnston’s case have been delayed repeatedly, first because of toxicology test results and more recently because of ongoing discussions about a possible plea bargain.

Johnston’s public defender, Steve McCrohan, told Nichols those discussions are continuing, but he asked her to set the hearing in case no plea agreement is reached.

Samuel Johnston died of a gunshot wound to the head. His brother surrendered without resistance when police showed up minutes later.

Investigators say Heath Johnston told them he shot his brother at his brother’s request after Sam Johnston said he wanted peace.

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 said.

They found a pipe and other possible drug paraphernalia in the Johnstons’ house, and Sam Johnston’s body was found with an empty liquor bottle near his hip, investigators said.


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