PENNSYLVANIA – Johnson sentenced to death in murder of wildlife conservation officer

October 9,  2012

An Adams County man has been sentenced to death for the murder of a law enforcement officer, Thursday, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The death penalty verdict carries an automatic appeal. Earlier in the week, Christopher L. Johnson, 29, of Carroll Valley, was found guilty of first degree murder in the Nov. 11, 2010 shooting death of Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove, 31, a Waynesboro native. The case against Johnson was heard by a 12-member jury composed of Lancaster County residents, who were chosen for the trial that was held in Adams County Court. The change of venire was granted due to pretrial publicity. That jury deliberated for about 30 minutes.

The penalty phase of trial began Tuesday afternoon and ended Thursday night when the jurors returned their recommendation for the death penalty. To find the death penalty was warranted, the jurors had to determine that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. One of those circumstances was Johnson’s previous felony conviction.

Throughout the trial, which began the previous week, the prosecution painted a detailed picture of the shootout that led to Grove’s death. Officer Grove stopped a pickup truck, operated by Johnson, on Schriver Road, near Red Rock Road, in Freedom Township, Adams County. Grove was investigating a deer poaching incident., in connection with a poaching incident. Johnson had told police he fired at Grove because he did not want to go back to prison for illegally possessing a .45 caliber handgun when he was stopped.

At 10:32 p.m., that night, Officer Grove notified county dispatch that he had spotted a vehicle that was illegally using a spotlight to see deer. He also reported to county that he heard shots. Officer Grove pulled the pickup truck occupied by Johnson and another man and ordered them out of the vehicle. Grove then ordered Johnson to come to him.

Johnson was also wounded during the ensuing gun battle. On his way for treatment at York Hospital, Johnson told a state trooper who was accompanying him that he had been carrying the gun in his waistband. He said that when Officer Grove attempted to handcuff him, he drew the pistol and the shooting began. Officer Grove was shot four times.

A bullet fired by Officer Grove hit Johnson in the hip. Johnson fled the scene but was arrested and taken into custody the next day. A total of 15 shell casings fire from Johnson’s weapon were recovered at the scene. The fact that Johnson had to reload the pistol was another aggravating factor the jury considered in rendering its decision. Officer Grove fired 10 shots, from his .357-caliber Glock revolver.

The jury also found Johnson guilty of weapons offenses and game-law violations. That was another of the aggravating factors reviewed by the jury.

Grove can also appeal the conviction. Johnson has been committed to the State Correctional Institute at Rockview. Before a death sentence warrant can be signed by the governor, all of Grove’s appeals must be exhausted.

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