John Aston was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges in the multi-year series of threats against Justice of the Peace John Tatro.
After a three-day preliminary hearing, Senior JP Harold Albright of Sparks ruled there was more than enough evidence to bind Aston over on felony charges of arson, aggravated stalking and discharging a firearm into an occupied residence.
Arraignment was set for Sept. 19 before District Judge James Wilson but that may be postponed if the defense asks for a different judge or change of venue because of the personal relationship those in the Carson courthouse have with Tatro.
In part because the charges involved a judge, District Attorney Jason Woodbury went well beyond the standard of probable cause, presenting mounds of evidence capped by the testimony of DNA expert Monica Sierwertsen of the Washoe Crime Lab. She testified the DNA match was more than 1.6 quadrillion to one Aston’s DNA wasn’t on the milk jugs filled with flammable materials used to try to set Tatro’s home on fire, and nearly 4 trillion to one his genetic material wasn’t on the Christmas card sent to the Tatro family saying “You will die.”
In addition, ballistics tied the .357 lever action rifle found in Aston’s storage unit to the bullets fired through the judge’s front door in 2012 when the harassment began.
Woodbury, in his closing argument, described the DNA evidence as the “coup de grace.”
He said the chances the DNA belonged to someone other than Aston were “simply astronomical.”
Public defenders handling the case presented no final argument, seemingly accepting the fact they’ll have to defend Aston at the district court level.
Woodbury conceded the case was going nowhere after the 2012 shooting, the 2014 Christmas card and the attempted arson in 2015 that failed when the two milk jugs containing flammables failed to ignite the Tatro residence. About the only evidence they had was video images showing what appeared to be an old Mercedes driving by Tatro’s home.
The break came from retired Reno police detective Brad Norman who was working part time as a police officer at Truckee Meadows Community College and the Reno VA.
Carson Sheriff’s Detective Sam Hatley said he contacted Norman asking about another man who could have been a suspect but that was a dead end. He testified he got a call from Norman this past February saying there was someone at the VA he might want to look at because of materials in his backpack including an article about the shooting at the Tatro home.
Until that point, there was no one to compare the DNA samples from the milk jugs and threatening Christmas card to.
Hatley said he took Aston into custody on an old warrant and brought him to Carson City. There, the trail of evidence, he said, led to Aston’s storage unit in Reno.
Inside was the Mercedes, complete with the broken brake light seen in the fuzzy video, and numerous firearms including the one forensics experts believe fired the bullets that shattered the Tatros’ front door.
Judge Albright made a special point after the three days of testimony to thank and congratulate both the prosecution and defense, describing their handling of the preliminary hearing as “without question one of the best cases I’ve ever seen.”