Just a short distance from the West Virginia border in south-central Pennsylvania, a young conservation officer was killed in the line of duty in the fall of 2010.
A scant few years out of the Keystone State’s specialized academy for wildlife officers, David L. Grove was investigating reports of nighttime deer poaching (jacklighting) when he lost his life in a shooting altercation with a suspect, Christopher L. Johnson.
Johnson was a convicted felon not entitled to be in possession of a firearm. Officer Grove, having provided his location and a call for backup prior to the arrest attempt and ensuing shootout, it wasn’t long before the dreaded, “officer down” call brought forth a rapid response.
Thought it was too late for the young warden, his actions led Pennsylvania State Police and others quickly to the scene, an abandoned vehicle and a young accomplice who had fled from the perpetrator wanting no part of such a horrific turn of events. Johnson indicated that he didn’t want to go back to prison under any circumstances. This essentially was his justification for the action.
Having also been wounded in the melee and seeking medical attention, Johnson’s trail was hot and his wish to remain un-incarcerated was short lived at best.
With a mountain of evidence weighing down Johnson; the defense sought a lesser murder degree in the apparent effort to avoid the death penalty, arguing that Johnson was too drunk to form the intent to kill.
Prosecutors rebutted that he was apparently sober enough to both seek medical attention and shoot a handcuff off per Pa. Game Commission (PGC) law enforcement sources. The jury was not swayed however, taking only an hour in handing down a guilty verdict of murder in the first degree last week.
Just two days after that conviction, the jury again acted promptly taking only about five hours to render the death penalty over life imprisonment per Jason DeCoskey, PGC’s Chief of Law Enforcement.
Carl Roe, the agency’s Executive Director issued a statement thanking the prosecutors and State Police for their efforts indicating that, “justice has been served with these jury decisions.” Officer Grove, 31 years of age, was the first wildlife officer killed in the line of duty there since in 95 years. It is with high hopes that he would be the last.