Murder suspect shot his father outside home, police say

James Johnston, 30, reportedly claimed the fatal shot was a misfire. He remained in jail Monday.

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SNOHOMISH — A man shot and killed his father Sunday morning at their home west of Snohomish, police said.

On Monday afternoon, an Everett District Court judge maintained bail at $1 million for James Johnston, 30, who is under investigation for second-degree murder.

Shortly before noon Sunday, a man called 911 saying Johnston had shot his father with a .22-caliber rifle on the property in the 6500 block of 57th Avenue SE, according to a police report. The caller reported Johnston was “mentally unstable.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrived to the scene where Johnston had reportedly barricaded himself in his trailer in the yard.

Johnston’s father had suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen, police wrote. Deputies rushed him to a safer area near the street. He was pronounced dead as paramedics tried to transport him from the scene.

Meanwhile, deputies told Johnston he was under arrest. Johnston reportedly walked out of the trailer unarmed and cooperated with police.

Johnston had been living in the trailer behind his father’s home at the time of the shooting, police wrote.

Two people who were inside the father’s home that day told detectives a “warning shot” had been fired from the trailer at the father’s feet. When the father walked back toward the trailer, another shot was fired, this time reportedly hitting him.

The father staggered back to the two witnesses and said, “He shot me,” police wrote. Then he collapsed.

In an interview, Johnston reportedly told detectives he had been target shooting by his trailer. The rifle misfired when he was either changing the ammunition or clearing a malfunction, he reportedly said.

In court, defense attorney Ama Okoro argued the information in the police report did not support the allegation of murder.

“At most, we would argue that this rises to the level of manslaughter in the second degree,” Okoro said. “Here, Mr. Johnston was cooperative. He explained to the officers what had occurred. The two witnesses … did not see what had occurred.”

Deputy prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence asked the judge to find probable cause for both second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

“The defendant was aware that his father was at the home, or around the trailer,” Lawrence said, and “aware that he did not want him to be firing his weapon, continued to shoot his weapon — warning shots — ultimately shooting and killing the victim.”

A judge sided with the state and found probable cause for murder and manslaughter, saying there was sufficient evidence in the case to show Johnston intended to kill his father with the fatal shot.

Johnston had no prior felony record in Washington.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the father’s cause and manner of death.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486;; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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