Adams County man to face death penalty for slaying of wildlife officer
Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove, killed Thursday in the line of duty. (Pennsylvania Game Commission)
A convicted felon will be charged with first-degree murder and other offenses for the Thursday-night slaying of a 31-year-old wildlife conservation officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27, of Fairfield, Adams County, fatally shot WCO David L. Grove during a "ferocious exchange of gunfire" after Grove stopped Johnson for suspected poaching, according to Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski.
The slaying happened in the 300 block of Schriver Road just outside Gettysburg in Freedom Township, police said.
Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner indicated he will seek the death penalty for Johnson.
"If a law-enforcement officer is intentionally killed in the line of duty, that is grounds to seek the death penalty," Wagner said.
And if an officer is killed on duty in Adams County, the district attorney said, "we will seek the death penalty."
More charges: In addition to first-degree murder, Johnson will also be charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, firearms not to be carried without a license, possessing an instrument of crime, flight to avoid apprehension and various violations of the state game and wildlife code, according to Wagner.
"The charges will be filed (Friday) afternoon," he said. "We anticipate Mr. Johnson will be arraigned. He is in a local hospital right now receiving treatment."
Johnson was apparently shot in the hip area during the firefight, but his injuries are not considered life-threatening, according to Pawlowski.
Johnson was in York Hospital, but his condition could not be obtained.
What happened: Pawlowski said Grove was on nighttime patrol looking for game-law violations when "he witnessed what he believed to be a poaching incident," specifically spotlight hunting with gunfire.
Grove immediately called for backup and ordered Johnson and a passenger out of the pickup truck they were in, Pawlowski said.
"There was a struggle around the car and an exchange of gunfire," he said, describing it as a "ferocious" firefight.
Cumberland Township Police officers arrived at the scene two minutes after Grove called for backup, but Johnson and his passenger were gone and Grove was already shot, Pawlowski said.
Grove had also called in the license-plate number of the pickup truck Johnson was driving, which allowed police to quickly identify their suspect, he said.
Numerous police agencies, as well as game commission officers and members of the U.S. Marshals Service, worked with state police throughout the night and into Friday morning to track down Johnson, officials said.
Police also identified Johnson's passenger and have spoken with him, Pawlowski said.
"We consider him a witness right now, and he's working with our troopers to piece together what happened," he said.
On foot: After the slaying, Johnson abandoned the pickup truck he was driving and was spotted limping along a road by a passing driver, police said. Johnson asked the driver -- who had no idea what had happened -- for help, police said.
"This motorist obliged and took him to a (nearby) hunting camp," Pawlowski said.
But troopers, who already knew Johnson's identity, were at the camp waiting for him, the commissioner said. Johnson, who reportedly was considered armed and dangerous, was arrested without incident, police said.
That happened at 9:40 a.m. Friday in Franklin Township, Adams County, according to Trooper Tom Pinkerton, a state police spokesman.
Multiple wounds: Adams County Coroner Pat Felix said Grove suffered multiple gunshot wounds, but his cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the neck. Felix has ruled Grove's death a homicide, she said.
The coroner made her ruling after a Friday-morning autopsy at Allentown's Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Grove was an avid hunter, fisherman and golfer, according to Robert Criswell of the state game commission.
Game commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said a wildlife conservation officer hasn't been slain in the line of duty since 1915.
'Shocked': "We are shocked and saddened by the killing of WCO Grove," said Carl Roe, executive director of the state game commission, said in a news release. "He was a bright, young officer who was dedicated to conserving Pennsylvania's wildlife resources, and promoting our state's rich hunting and trapping heritage. Our prayers and thoughts go out to WCO Grove's family and friends, as we mourn the loss of one of our own."
Grove became a full-time WCO on March 8, 2008, and was assigned to the southern district of Adams County, Feaser said.
He served as a deputy WCO in Franklin County from 2001 until 2007, and also worked at the Penn State University deer-research facility in Centre County from 2003 until 2004, according to Feaser.
In 2004, Grove received a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State, Feaser said.
Criminal history: Online court records reveal Johnson, who has lived in Gettysburg and Fairfield, pleaded guilty in November 2005 to fleeing or attempting to elude police and endangering the welfare of a child.
In exchange for his plea, other charges -- including speeding, reckless endangerment and reckless driving -- were dismissed, records state. Johnson was sentenced to probation.
He pleaded guilty in February 2002 to burglary in two separate cases, and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary in a third case, records state. He received probation in all three cases, according to records.
However, he violated the terms of his probation and served time in prison for it, records state.