TWIN FALLS • Charles Johnston was killed over $28,000.
New details emerged Friday in a February slaying at a Twin Falls motel. Johnston was betrayed by his longtime friend Crystal Turner, detectives testified at her preliminary hearing.
Johnston, 34, of Winnemucca, Nev., was in Twin Falls helping Turner find somewhere new to live after she was kicked out of her brother’s house, detectives said. Soon after Johnston told Turner he had inherited a large amount of cash, she made plans to rob him.
Johnston, was shot to death Feb. 12 at the Apollo Motor Inn.
Turner, 30, of Twin Falls, is charged with aiding and abetting first-degree murder. She is also charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. William McGrath, 22, is also charged with first-degree murder in the case.
At Friday’s hearing, Magistrate Judge Thomas Kershaw ruled prosecutors have enough evidence against Turner to send her case to district court where she could go to a jury trial. McGrath chose to delay his preliminary hearing for three weeks because he wants to hire a new attorney.
Police say McGrath and an unknown Hispanic man shot Johnston, but Turner planned and encouraged the robbery. The three planned to split the cash three ways.
The night before the shooting, McGrath asked Jose Pizano Campos to hold on to a semi-automatic pistol for him. Pizano Campos testified that he didn’t ask why McGrath wanted him to.
“It was none of my business really,” he said.
About 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., the next day, McGrath and Turner showed up at Pizano Campos’ house, he said. The three smoked meth and McGrath said he was going to “come up.”
“It’s a thing we say,” Pizano Campos said. He said he understood that it meant McGrath was going to use the handgun to steal drugs or money.
Turner sent two acquaintances text messages asking about “throw away” guns in the days leading up to the shooting. Jessica Speth testified she met Turner only a week before the shooting. She got a text early on February 12 asking if she had a “throw away strap” or a .38 bullet. She said her husband responded “no thanks.”
Wes Smith, who let Turner and her children move in with him after she had a fight with her brother, said he also got a text asking if he “can get throw aways.” He responded that he couldn’t.
Then, between 9 and 11 a.m., he said, Turner came home and was frantic. She repeatedly said she had a friend who was hurt or dead and said she wanted to hide her car.
“I asked her ‘What’s going on?’” Smith said. “She was all broken up.”
Soon after, Speth took her to the police station where she reported her friend had been shot.
During a three-hour interview with Detective Nate Silvester, Turner’s story repeatedly changed, he said.
First, she didn’t know how McGrath knew about Johnston’s inheritance, and later she admitted telling him about it. At one point, she said McGrath and the Hispanic man forced her at gunpoint to drive to the motel. Later she told Silvester that wasn’t true — she didn’t see the guns until they got to the motel.
After that, her story solidified.
“They were longtime friends,” Silvester said of Turner and Johnston. “He trusted her. She was supposed to be their way into the room.”
Turner first went to Johnston’s room alone. He gave her cash to buy some snacks at the gas station next door. When she returned with food, McGrath and the Hispanic man joined her in Johnston’s room.
Johnston decided to shower while the three waited. McGrath stood by the bathroom door holding two guns, the Hispanic man was near the bed closest to the bathroom holding one gun and Turner, unarmed, sat on a bed close to the front door.
“As soon as Charles opened the bathroom door, they opened fire on him,” Silvester said.
Turner heard five shots.
Detective Brian Maughan showed hotel surveillance footage to the judge and attorneys. The footage shows three people go into Johnston’s room, he said. Eight minutes later, one person runs from the motel and gets in the driver’s seat of the car. A few seconds later, a second person walks from the motel room and gets in the passenger seat. The car starts moving backward, and a third person runs from the room and jumps in the back seat.
McGrath’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 24.
Emmillie Dale Sarnirand, 43, of Jerome, is accused of hiding McGrath after the shooting. She is charged with harboring a wanted felon and two counts of being an accessory to a felony. She is being held on $100,000 bail. If convicted, Sarnirand faces up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine for each charge. Her preliminary hearing is set for April 10 in Twin Falls County Court.