The three-day preliminary hearing for the man accused of threatening Carson City Judge John Tatro began Wednesday.
John Aston, 74, was charged with discharging a firearm at an occupied structure, arson in the fourth degree and aggravated stalking for three incidents of alleged harassment toward the justice of the peace. Allegedly, Aston had shot two rounds into Tatro’s front door in December 2012, mailed a Christmas card that said “You Will Die” inside in December 2014 and attempted to ignite an incendiary device on the Tatro property in May 2015.
“It was pure terror,” John Tatro testified in court.
Aston sat in the courtroom in a wheelchair, dressed in blue scrubs and listened as Tatro described what happened in December 2012.
“We heard a loud noise (that woke us up) around 4:30 a.m.,” Tatro said. “I thought the Christmas tree had fallen, because we had just put it up the day before, (my wife) Kathy thought it was something bad.”
However, when the Tatros entered their living room, John recalled they first noticed some of the branches of the tree and pieces of ornaments littered the floor. Kathy and John testified they then heard what they thought was rain, only to soon discover the noise was shattered glass from their sliding door falling onto the ground. It was then they saw the bullet holes in the front door and in the shutters across the room.
“My wife was hysterical and we were in pure terror,” John said. “There were bullet holes in the front door at four in the morning, and we didn’t know what to think… we were panicked, in terror.
“The world changed at that point.”
Tatro then went on to describe in detail the incidents with the Christmas card and the incendiary device, telling the court each passing incident only created more fear for the couple.
“You always feel safe in your own house and that was stripped away,” Kathy said. “When we went outside we had to check the security cameras to make sure no one was there or there wasn’t anything around the house. It was hard to see my husband so upset for doing his job and it took away our feeling of safety.”
“Since Mr. Aston has been in jail, we can finally breathe.”
The prosecution didn’t question the couple much, just to ask them broader questions about the case such as their neighbor relations, the public’s accessibility to their mailbox and whom they originally suspected in the case.
Another key witness in the hearings was Brad Norman, a detective with the Veteran Affairs Office who originally arrested Aston on unrelated charges.
Norman was investigating a possible identity theft investigation and Aston was a suspect in stealing and using the co-pays for another veteran’s identity as he was being treated at the VA.
After several conversations, Norman was able determine Aston had been giving the VA a false identification during his treatments and discovered his real name had a weapons warrant attached to it.
When Norman arrested Aston on the weapons charges, the inventory of his backpack revealed a newspaper clipping about one of the Tatro incidents.
“I thought it looked like a trophy of some sort because why would someone keep that?” Norman said.
“So I asked him why he would keep something like this and he told me the judge was a jerk and that (Tatro) had mistreated him in a traffic case he had and that’s why he kept it.”
The prosecution also called Leslie Nichols, a senior clerk at the Justice Court, who testified court records indicated Aston had in fact been in Tatro’s court twice; once in 2000 for a traffic case to argue a speeding and no insurance ticket where he was found guilty, and again in 2011 for the weapons case where he failed to appear for his preliminary hearing and was issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
Other witnesses for day one included the Tatros’ neighbor who’s surveillance footage was used by detectives to help identify the vehicle Aston allegedly used in the crimes; Carson City Sheriff’s Sgt. Doug Speegle who was the lead investigator for the shooting and Christmas card incidents to verify and explain the evidence found at the Tatro residence; and Dean Higman, the retired senior forensic specialist with Carson City Sheriff’s Office to explain the evidence and extraction techniques used.
The Aston case is scheduled to conclude Friday, and the prosecution is expected to introduce at least another half dozen witnesses.