Rifle man accused of murder
26-year-old victim was suspect’s older brother
RIFLE — A 20-year-old Rifle man faces a first-degree murder charge after the shooting death of his older brother Monday night.
Heath Johnston remained in the custody of the Garfield County Jail on Tuesday in lieu of $2 million bond.
Police say Heath Johnston killed Samuel Johnston, 26, at the home they shared at 721 East Ave. in Rifle.
The Garfield County Coroner’s Office said Samuel Johnston died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Rifle police chief Daryl Meisner said officers arrived about four minutes after the shooting, which was reported to authorities at about 7:24 p.m. He said Heath Johnston surrendered to police without incident at the home’s front door.
Samuel Johnston was dead when police arrived, Meis-ner said.
Meisner wouldn’t comment on reports that Johnston had told a neighbor his brother had said he was miserable and begged to be shot. The police chief declined to speak about any possible motivation for the shooting.
“That’s part of the investigation that I’m not permitted to release right now,” Meisner said.
In a rare move in Garfield County, the arrest affidavit in the case was placed under seal Tuesday, barring public access to it. County Judge Paul Metzger ordered the affidavit’s sealing at the request of the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“The defendant’s got a right to a fair trial. There’s some things in the affidavit that could compromise that right,” District Attorney Martin Beeson said later Tuesday.
Beeson said investigators informed Johnston of his right to remain silent, “and he gave an interview, so some of the content of the statement could be compromising a fair trial.”
Beeson said he learned after the file’s sealing that one news reporter may have seen it before the judge’s order.
Beeson said he is worried that pretrial publicity could lead to a request by Johnston’s attorney for a change of trial venue. He said he only asks to seal affidavits in serious, highly publicized cases, and the sealings don’t last indefinitely.
Johnston could face life in prison or possibly the death penalty if convicted in the case.
Some neighbors said Tuesday that young men were constantly coming and going from the Johnstons’ home. The neighbors wondered if the shooting might have been related to drug trafficking.
“From our investigation there’s no evidence of that,” Meisner said.
Megan Forrest, who lives a few doors down from the shooting site, said she wasn’t at home when it occurred, but was shocked to learn of it later.
“I walk my daughter by there every day. To know there’s that kind of violence so close, it does make me nervous,” she said. “You feel so comfortable and so safe in an area, and then something like that happens.”
Meisner said there was no apparent danger to neighbors Monday night.
He said the last murder case in Rifle involved the shooting deaths of four people by Michael Stagner in 2001. Stagner wounded three others. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to the state mental hospital in Pueblo.