Judge asked to suppress statement by man charged in Pa. wildlife officer's slaying

June 28, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Christopher Lynn Johnson, right, is charged in the November 2010 shooting death of Pennsylvania wildlife officer David L. Grove, left
File photos

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The defense attorney for a man charged with the shooting death of a Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officer asked a judge Tuesday in Adams County Court to suppress statements the defendant made to state police after his arrest.

But Pennsylvania State Trooper Nil Navitsky testified Tuesday that Christopher Lynn Johnson was  “coherent, collected, calm, courteous, respectful” following his arrest in the 2010 slaying of Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove.

Assistant Public Defender Kristin Rice asked Judge Michael George to keep statements Johnson made the day after Grove was killed out of his first-degree murder trial. George did not rule on that or other defense motions, recessing the hearing until Aug. 19.

Rice has also filed a motion to move the trial to another county, or to bring in a jury from another jurisdiction.

District Attorney Shawn Wagner has filed a notice of aggravating circumstances needed to seek the death penalty against Johnson. Among the three circumstances cited was that Grove was a law-enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.

During Tuesday's daylong hearing, Wagner called to the stand two paramedics and an emergency medical technician who accompanied Johnson on a 55-minute ambulance ride from where he was arrested on Orrtanna Road in Franklin Township to York (Pa.) Hospital.

Navitsky testified he questioned Johnson about the death of Grove both before and during the ride, recording much of it on audio tape.

Grove, 31, of Fairfield, Pa., was killed on the night of Nov. 10, 2010, when he pulled over a pickup truck in Freedom Township on suspicion of poaching deer. Police allege Johnson shot Grove four times — including a fatal wound to the back of his neck — during an exchange of gunfire.

Johnson, 27, of Fairfield, was arrested the next morning at a relative's hunting camp off Orrtanna Road, Navitsky testified Tuesday.
David Millstein, a paramedic working out of Gettysburg Hospital, testified he arrived at the camp and treated Johnson for a gunshot wound to his right hip.There was a small entrance wound, but no exit wound and little blood, Millstein testified.

Millstein, paramedic Rob Baughman and Mark Devilbiss, an emergency medical technician with the Fairfield Fire Department, all testified that Johnson was coherent, alert and oriented when they first encountered him and throughout the ambulance ride, even though he had been shot and spent the night outdoors.

However, in her cross-examination, Rice suggested that the medics might not have been able to properly recognize or diagnose symptoms of hypothermia and dehydration and the effects of blood loss from Johnson's wound. Rice also asked them whether Navitsky requested that they withhold morphine from Johnson while he was being questioned.
Millstein testified that Navitsky asked if morphine was going to be given Johnson. At that point in their assessment, they were not yet ready and had yet to receive permission to administer morphine to Johnson, who told the medics his pain level was 10 on a scale of 10, Millstein testified.

Johnson was read a Miranda warning protecting him from self-incrimination before the ambulance arrived, and he admitted to making “some bad decisions,” Navitsky testified.

Told that Grove was a law-enforcement officer, Navitsky testified that Johnson told him “he thought he was only a game warden.”

Navitsky testified he was asking the medics if it was all right to question Johnson before he was given the morphine. In response to a question from Rice, the trooper said he “wasn't educated” on the effects morphine could have on a person and did not want to “screw-up the interview.”

Johnson was discharged from York Hospital on the afternoon of Nov. 12 and returned to Adams County where he agreed to help police search for a handgun and rifle in the wooded area where he left his truck, state police Cpl. Christopher Mumma testified.

Johnson was driven through the woods looking for the firearms while wearing a hospital gown, Mumma testified.

Wagner later noted the high temperature that day was 61 degrees.

Rice told George she wants the court to suppress statements Johnson purportedly made to Navitsky before the ambulance ride, as well as the recorded statements made in the ambulance and statements her client made to Mumma.

Troopers testified at the preliminary hearing that Johnson is believed to have fired 15 rounds from a .45-caliber handgun, and that Grove allegedly fired 10 shots.

Grove was a graduate of Grace Academy in Hagerstown and lived in Waynesboro, Pa., before moving to Fairfield.

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