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Waynesboro Record Herald
By Colleen Seidel/The Record Herald
Posted Oct. 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Gettysburg, Pa. – Christopher Lynn Johnson, the Carroll Valley man convicted of first-degree murder in the Nov. 11, 2010, shooting death of Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove, now faces two possibilities for his future: Life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
The same jury that found Johnson, now 29, guilty of killing the 31-year-old wildlife conservation officer who pulled him over for poaching deer near Fairfield, will determine his fate.
The sentencing portion of the trial Wednesday included testimony from family members of both men, including Grove’s parents, Dana and Lucy Grove of Waynesboro. Testimony continues today in the Adams County Courthouse.
“It’s not about comparing the value of Officer Grove’s life to Christopher Johnson’s life. It’s not a scorecard,” said Kristin Rice, Johnson’s defense attorney, who is arguing for life in prison without parole.
Rice said the jury has only known Johnson “by the worst actions of his whole life” and asked jury members to consider “the possibility of the renewal of life.”
District Attorney Shawn Wagner, who is seeking the death penalty, asked the jury to “set aside emotion and decide based on reason.
“He is a convicted killer of an officer — keep that fact in mind,” Wagner said.
Much of Wednesday’s testimony from defense witnesses centered on Johnson’s role as a father, his relationship with his family and his history of substance abuse and mental illness.
Johnson’s mother, Kimberly Topper, testified about Johnson’s childhood. She described Johnson as a “good, loving boy” who was not the “best kid in school (because) he would rather have been outside.”
She described how Johnson was tested at a young age for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because of her concerns with his schoolwork and “hyper” personality.
Johnson’s younger sister, Brandy Johnson, also testified, saying that Johnson was “more than a brother” to her.
“He’s my best friend and like a dad to me,” she said, recalling times in their childhood when their biological father was absent.
Topper described Johnson’s emotional reaction to the birth of his daughter in 2004 and said he has been an “active parent” throughout his daughter’s life, even while imprisoned.
Johnson sends his daughter letters and cartoons through the mail and calls her frequently on the phone, encouraging her in her schoolwork, according to his mother.
She also said the pair share an affinity for the outdoors and Johnson frequently took his daughter fishing.
Grove’s family also testified Wednesday, recalling how they learned of his killing early in the morning on Nov. 12, 2010, and how they have grieved since then.
“It’s hard getting up every single day knowing a part of you is missing,” said his mother, Lucy Grove, who added she still has trouble sleeping and wakes up in the middle of the night.
She described her son as a “fun-loving, happy-go-lucky” person who “loved to be with people, loved being outdoors and loved his job.”
She said Grove was “very close” with his dad and older brother, Chad, who would all go hunting and fishing together.
Grove was also close with his younger sister, Jennifer, with whom he shared his passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Dana Grove recalled how his son never said “hello” or “good-bye” on the phone.
“David never saw the relationship break,” he said. “It was a constant conversation.”
Grove’s father said his son’s “duty to protect and serve” was “really important to him.”
He added that Grove enjoyed teaching young people the proper rules for hunting and trapping.
Grove’s fiancee Angela Heare, said the couple had planned a Sept. 10, 2011, wedding date shortly before the night he was killed.
She said that Grove loved the outdoors so much and rejected a Nov. 11, 2011, wedding date “because it was in the middle of hunting season.”
“Most of all I miss his love,” she said. “He was the love of my life.”
Both Dana Grove and Heare talked about the hardships of grieving the loss in the public spotlight.
“I remember thinking this was going to be a small funeral,” said Grove’s father. He said that while the family wanted to grieve privately, “it became a public thing.”
“We wanted to honor David and what he had done for the commonwealth,” his father said.
Grove’s funeral in Waynesboro, was attended by more than 1,000 people, including Pennsylvania Game Commission officers, Pennsylvania State Police officers and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
His funeral procession through the streets of his hometown was highlighted by townspeople lining the streets, some waving American flags and saluting.
Issues regarding Johnson’s health, both immediately before Nov. 11, 2010, and his entire life, were also raised Wednesday.
Dr. John Hume, a forensic psychiatrist who met Johnson in December 2010 at the Adams County Prison, testified for the defense that Johnson suffered from a “substantial” history of depression, a history of “polysubstance abuse” and bipolar disorder.
“There have probably been unrecognized medical issues in this case,” Hume said.
The psychiatrist testified that Johnson was on the medications Ritalin, Prozac and Ambien in August 2010, but had not taken the medicines for two to three weeks before the Nov. 11 shooting.
Hume added that Johnson reported using marijuana, Ecstasy and acid in the past. He said he suspected Johnson was using alcohol around the time of the shooting in an “effort to try and modulate (his) feelings about life.”
Both Johnson’s mother and sister testified to a family history of depression.
His former fiancee, Leslie Filer, testified that she and Johnson had been arguing the day before the shooting because of his increased alcohol consumption in the weeks before.
Three pastors and two correctional officers from the Adams County Prison testified about Johnson’s conduct and Christian religious endeavors while in prison since 2010.
Pastor Sadie Pounder, who met Johnson in May 2012, recalled his “invigorating theological discussions” with her and his “exceptional” knowledge of the Bible. Pastor Ron Cordell talked about Johnson’s frequent participation in a Bible study program he ran in the prison.
Sgt. Paula Garris, a correctional officer at the prison, testified to Johnson’s behavior, saying that he was “very social” with other inmates and affirming that his “good behavior” was “consistent.”
Other witnesses for the defense included relatives, friends and neighbors of Johnson who testified to his character. Each affirmed Johnson’s relationship with his daughter as important in his and his daughter’s life.
Cross-examination of defense witnesses by Wagner, along with testimony from prosecution witnesses, revealed further details about Johnson’s past criminal convictions. Wagner also revealed to the court that two of the pastors were introduced to Johnson after the shooting, at the request of his defense counsel.
Johnson was in jail from July 2005 through February 2007 for engaging in a high-speed chase with police while his daughter, 14 months old at the time, was in the back seat, Wagner noted. Johnson was charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Curtis Whitmoyer testified that Johnson was arrested in January 2002 for store burglaries at the Gettysburg Village Outlets in Mount Joy Township and the attempted burglary of Lincoln Trading Post in Gettysburg
James Bievenour, who works at Redding’s Hardware in Gettysburg, testified that 24 firearms were stolen from his store on Jan. 9, 2002.
Because of these convictions Johnson was prohibited from the use or possession of firearms.
In addition to the first-degree murder of Grove, Johnson was convicted Tuesday morning of illegal possession of firearms and the use of firearms without a license. He had a .22-caliber rifle in his vehicle the night of the shooting and a .45-caliber handgun, which he used to shoot Grove.