In the community

Nyssa man admits killing reserve police officer, expected to get life in prison

VALE – A Nyssa man admitted killing a Nyssa reserve police corporal in 2023, and pleaded guilty to aggravated murder on Wednesday, March 20, in Malheur County Circuit Court.

Rene Castro, 37, was subdued – quickly answering questions from Malheur County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Lung Hung with “yes” or a “no” ­– as he entered his plea via a video conference call from jail.

He was accused of the April 15 murder of Joseph Johnson, 43.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said Castro’s expected sentence will be life in prison without the possibility of release for at least 30 years.

Hung set Castro’s sentencing hearing for 3 p.m., Friday April 5.

As part of the plea agreement, other charges against Castro – including first-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon, felon in possession of a firearm and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer – were dismissed.

Johnson was dispatched to a call of a disturbance when he was shot and killed as he sat in his patrol car. Authorities later identified Castro as the suspect in Johnson’s death and tracked him to an Ontario home where was arrested two days later. The shooting occurred outside the Nyssa home where Castro lived.

Colleagues and friends recall Joseph “JJ” Johnson as a man of warmth, good will and always willing to help others.

The plea agreement came after negotiations between Goldthorpe and Castro’s attorneys Wednesday afternoon.

“This resolution was reached after consultations with Officer Johnson’s family,” said Goldthorpe.

He declined to comment further until after Castro is sentenced.

Johnson had been a reserve officer for the Nyssa Police Department since 2018. He also worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections as a behavioral health specialist at Snake River Correctional Institution. He was survived by his wife and two children.

News tip? Send your information to reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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