GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Jurors who convicted a deer poacher of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a central Pennsylvania game warden must now decide whether to sentence him to execution or life in prison without possibility of parole.
The Adams County panel deliberated for less than an hour Tuesday before convicting 29-year-old Christopher Johnson of Fairfield in the November 2010 death of wildlife conservation officer David Grove.
Investigators said Johnson and a friend had poached a deer at night when Grove pulled them over on a rural road near Gettysburg. The passenger said a shootout began after Johnson, a convicted felon, vowed never to go back to prison. Jurors were told the two men fired 25 shots in the exchange that left Grove dead and Johnson injured.
Defense attorneys had sought a lesser conviction, arguing that Johnson was too drunk to form the intent to kill. A doctor who treated Johnson's wounds said the defendant told him he drank 12 beers the day of the shooting.
District Attorney Shawn Wagner told jurors as the penalty phase began Tuesday afternoon that he will outline four aggravating circumstances in the case that support imposing the death penalty, including that the murder occurred during commission of a felony, that the victim was a law enforcement officer killed during performance of his duties, that he was a possible witness against the defendant and that Johnson has a history of felony convictions involving threat or use of force.
"Does any evidence outweigh the life of Officer Grove?" Wagner asked in summation, according to WHP-TV.
Defense attorneys, who are calling the possible sentences "the two worst punishments in a civilized country," indicated that they will try to show that Johnson has empathy and there is still much of value in his life.
Jurors, who return Wednesday to hear more testimony, were brought in from neighboring Lancaster County because of the publicity surrounding the case.
Grove was the first Pennsylvania game warden killed in the line of duty in 95 years, and more than 1,000 mourners attended his funeral.