2010-12-02 / Local & State

Man Accused In Game Warden Slaying Held For Trial

By Mark Scolforo ASSOCIATED PRESS

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) – A man accused of killing a game warden during a poaching investigation two weeks ago told police the warden fired the first shot in what state police have described as a ferocious gun battle, according to testimony at his preliminary hearing Wednesday.

“I know he shot the first one, I remember that,’’ Christopher Lynn Johnson told a state trooper, according to an interview transcript, as he was being taken to a hospital for treatment on Nov. 12, the morning after he allegedly killed Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove outside Gettysburg.

Investigators testified Wednesday they recovered from the scene 10 bullet casings that fit the .357-caliber Glock revolver issued to Grove, as well as 15 casings for a .45-caliber handgun, the type of weapon Johnson allegedly used to shoot Grove four times.

State police Commissioner Col. Frank Pawlowski previously said the two had “a ferocious exchange of gunfire’’ after Grove caught Johnson illegally shooting deer at night.

Gettysburg District Judge Mark Beauchat ruled there was sufficient evidence against Johnson, 27, to forward the case to common pleas court for trial.

Johnson’s attorney presented no evidence, and the defendant said little during the two-hour proceeding amid heavy security inside the Adams County Courthouse. Johnson was sent back to the county jail without bail, and did not respond to questions as deputies loaded him into a vehicle afterward.

Defense attorney Kristin Rice said she was not surprised that the case was bound over for trial, and described the hearing as “the beginning of a very long discovery process.’’

Asked about Johnson’s alleged confession, she said: “The question is, confessed to what? The answer will be determined at trial.’’

Trooper Neal J. Navitsky testified that Johnson voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and spoke with him after being arrested outside a hunting camp.

According to the transcript of the recorded interrogation that was read in court, Johnson said Grove pulled him over after he shot a deer and ordered him and passenger Ryan Laumann to get out of the truck. Grove had put a handcuff on Johnson’s right wrist when, Johnson said, he went for a handgun that the warden had not noticed.

“I’d been to jail, and I decided I didn’t want to go back,’’ Johnson said, according to the transcript. He described how Grove told him to stop before the shooting began, and said he did not feel the bullet that ended up in his hip, where it remains lodged.

Grove’s four bullet wounds included a fatal shot to his neck, according to an autopsy.

Trooper Jason Weaver testified that he arrived at the scene within about 15 minutes of the “officer down’’ call going over the radio, and helped load Grove into an ambulance. Grove had no vital signs by that point, Weaver said.

Along with criminal homicide, Johnson is charged with weapons offenses and game-law violations.

Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he still intends to seek the death penalty. No charges have been filed against Laumann, Wagner said.

Grove was the first Pennsylvania game warden killed in the line of duty in 95 years. His packed funeral on Sunday in Waynesboro, the heart of the community where he grew up, drew well over 1,000 mourners, including uniformed law enforcement officers from around the country.

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