The Carson City Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney have now arrested the man believed to be responsible for the four-year long threats investigation against Justice of the Peace John Tatro.
Officials arrested 73-year-old John Thomas Aston on Monday on felony fourth-degree arson, felony aggravated stalking and felony discharging a firearm into an occupied residence. Aston is believed to have made several physical and written threats against Tatro and his family over four years.
Sheriff Ken Furlong and District Attorney Jason Woodbury held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce Aston’s arrest.
“We have been working on this investigation for four plus years and we are proud today to be able to bring you in,” Furlong said. “In the last 15 years, this is the largest investigation the Sheriff’s Office has mounted.”
The investigation began on Dec. 11, 2012, when deputies responded to reports of someone shooting at the judge’s front door in the early morning hours. The next incident occurred on Dec. 23, 2014, when Tatro received a Christmas card with the phrase “You will die” written inside. The third incident occurred May 13, 2015, when the suspect attempted to ignite several milk jugs filled with rubbing alcohol and several used and unused matches.
Until recently, officials had no identification on the suspect. It was Dec. 10, 2015, when they applied for a DNA warrant, a document that would allow them to issue an arrest warrant based on DNA evidence taken from the card and milk jugs without having the name of the suspect.
“Utilizing the DNA profile the District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office applied for the arrest warrant for discharging a firearm into an occupied structure, a category B felony,” Woodbury said.
Woodbury said it was crucial for them to get the DNA warrant at that time, because the day it was filed was the last day for the statute of limitations for the discharge charge.
Investigators spent thousands of hours searching for the vehicle seen at the scene of two of the incidents as well as information on the identification of the suspect. Carson Detective Samuel Hatley said their lead came from Veterans Hospital Police Detective Brad Norman, who had heard Aston make comments against the judge, as well as seeing Aston carry newspaper clippings of the incidents even several years after publication. Norman arrested Aston for a weapons warrant from 2011.
Upon investigation, detectives discovered a storage unit and, inside, it was discovered Aston had a 1980 gold Mercedes sedan that matched the description of the vehicle seen on scene at the Tatro shooting, several firearms and incendiary devices that matched those used at the Tatro scene. Detectives also found documents containing research on Tatro and his family including employment and addresses.
“Everyone is glad this has come to an end,” Hatley said. “Tatro has spent several years looking over his shoulder and having to change his lifestyle to keep himself and his family safe.”
Through investigation it was discovered Aston had appeared in Tatro’s court in 2005 for a traffic violation. Tatro also was the judge who issued the warrant for the weapons charge.
“His name never came up over the last four years, and it appears that this started over the traffic incident,” Furlong said. “In his mind it became such an agitating event that he took it out on the judge.”
The original DNA warrant has now been amended to name Aston for the criminal complaint.
Aston has now been charged with felony fourth degree arson, felony discharging a firearm into an occupied residence and felony aggravated stalking. His bail has been set at $250,000. If his charges run consecutively, Aston could face up to 25 years in prison.
Furlong credited Hatley for his dedication in bringing Aston to justice.
“I really want to thank Sam for his relentless work in this case,” Furlong said. “He never gave up and that is the reason why we are where we are in this case.”
Several agencies contributed in the case, including the Department of Public Safety’s Investigation Division, the FBI, Sparks Police Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Washoe County Crime Lab, South Lake Tahoe Police Department and several more.
“This was something important to pursue for a fundamental reason, in Carson City, anytime a person fires a firearm into a residence it is a serious matter,” said Woodbury. “But because he seemed to be targeting a judge, and the acts were pretty violent even if no one got hurt. But he was targeting a judge and we take that seriously because they have a job to do and need to be able to do it without fear of violence ... these acts were against the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
Aston is scheduled to have his first appearance this week in court.