Tuesday, October 2, 2012

UPDATE: Man who killed Officer Grove could receive the death penalty

Officer David Grove
UPDATE: Man who killed Officer Grove could receive the death penalty

Christopher Johnson was convicted of first degree murder Tuesday in the death of state Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove. The jury is now charged with sentencing Johnson to death or life in prison with no chance for parole.

After six days of testimony, the jury decided that Johnson willfully and with premeditation fired 18 shots aimed at killing the law enforcement officer. The murder occurred November 11, 2010, in a rural area near Gettysburg.

Grove had pulled Johnson over on suspicion of poaching when a gunfight ensued.

Christopher Johnson left the Adams County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon convicted of first degree murder. According to testimony, he told a friend with him that evening as Officer Grove was pulling them over, that he was not going back to prison.

As a convicted felon he was not allowed to have a gun. But before getting out of his pickup, he tucked a .45 pistol in his pants.

The jury took only 45 minutes to reach a guilty verdict on murder and three other felony charges.

The jury returned to the courtroom to begin the penalty phase of the trial. The six men and six women from Lancaster County must decide whether to sentence Johnson to death or life imprisonment without parole.

In its opening, the defense called the only possible sentences "the two worst punishments in a civilized country." It intends to show that Johnson is bright, has empathy for the victim's family and that there's still much of value in Christopher's life.

District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he will outline four aggravating circumstances supporting the death penalty, including that the defendant killed Officer Grove while committing a felony.

Other circumstances will be that Grove was a witness to a felony committed by Johnson and was killed to prevent him from testifying, that Johnson has a history of felony convictions involving the threat or use of force and that Grove was a law enforcement officer killed in the performance of his duties.

In summation, Wagner asked, "Does any evidence out weigh the life of Officer Grove?"

Upon objection, Judge Michael George ordered the courtroom cleared. After meeting on a side bar with attorneys, when the jurors returned, he warned them, "Do not weigh one life against another. It would be in violation of your oath."

The jury returns Wednesday morning. The defense will try to convince the members why they should spare the life of a man who with premeditation killed a law enforcement officer.

The judge expects testimony will end Wednesday and that deliberation of the penalty phase could begin Thursday.

Christopher Johnson was found guilty of first degree murder this morning in the 2010 shooting death of a state Wildlife Conservation Officer near Gettysburg. Officer David Grove died in a gun battle with Johnson after pulling him over on suspicion of deer poaching.

The jury will reconvene at 1:00 this afternoon for a sentencing hearing. They have to select one of two penalties: death or life imprisonment without parole

The verdict was rendered in just 35 minutes. Although the jury of six men and six women were selected from Lancaster County because of the high profile case, the trial was held in the Adams County Courthouse in Gettysburg.

District Attorney Shawn Wagner is withholding comment until the conclusion of the sentencing hearing.

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