In the community

Johnson remembered as ‘protector’ and ‘guardian’ as guilty man heads to prison

VALE ­– The family of Joseph “JJ” Johnson, the slain Nyssa reserve officer, filed into Courtroom 1 on Friday afternoon for the final step in sending to prison the man who killed Johnson.

On bench seats behind them sat detectives from Oregon State Police who investigated the murder in a Nyssa neighborhood nearly a year ago. They were joined by local police officers, in uniform.

The Malheur County Circuit Court room was still as sheriff’s deputies brought in Rene Castro, the 37-year-old Nyssa man who last month admitted to shooting Johnson as he sat in his patrol car. Castro, head shorn and tattoos snaking up his neck, took a seat with his attorneys to face the sentence he knew was coming. He was clad in the black-and-white striped uniform of inmates, his hands handcuffed in front of him.

Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe spoke first, advising that Johnson’s relatives would address the court.

He handed to Circuit Court Judge Lung Hung a statement written by Johnson’s daughter. The judge silently read the statement.

Next Johnson’s widow, Linda, stepped to the microphone, speaking briefly as she worked to control her emotions.

“Choices were made that night,” she said in a soft voice.

She was followed by a family friend who read a statement composed by the Johnsons’ son.

The son observed that his father wouldn’t be there to teach him to drive or how to buy a house. He would no longer be there to share time watching baseball games on television.

“He won’t be at my graduation,” the son said.

He wondered if there was anything, anything at all, he could have done to change the outcome of the attack on his father on a Saturday night in Nyssa.

“He did not deserve to die,” the statement said.

Castro sat impassively.

Goldthorpe said part of his job was to “pick up the pieces and try to get some justice.”

He described Johnson as a husband and a father, a man always seeking to better himself. He pursued education, eventually becoming a counselor, working with inmates at Snake River Correctional Institution.

Johnson was a reserve corporal with the Nyssa Police Department, on patrol the night he died.

“He was a protector. He was a guardian,” the prosecutor said.

Referring to Castro, he said, “He snuffed out the life of a volunteer.”

He contrasted Johnson’s giving life to Castro’s history ­– “a life of chaos” that included one contact with police after another stretching back more than 20 years.

Goldthorpe cited “ripples of evil” from the murder ­– the impact on Johnson’s family and the community.

“People don’t feel safe as they did,” he said.

When he was done, Lung turned to Castro’s two attorneys. Public defender Steve Eberlein said Castro wouldn’t speak, turning aside an opportunity those convicted sometimes use to explain their actions or to apologize.

Castro sat impassively.

He spoke only to answer two procedural questions from Lung, answering “Yes, sir.”

“You’ve done a horrible thing,” Lung said.

He then imposed the sentence set by a plea agreement in which Castro admitted to aggravated murder ­– life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.

Lung also ordered Castro to pay restitution of $103,000, including $760 to Johnson’s widow. The bulk of the restitution would go to a worker’s compensation insurer, though the likelihood of any payments from an imprisoned man are doubtful.

Castro sat impassively as the figures reeled out.

With that, Lung left the courtroom, those in the audience remained seated, and Castro shuffled back out, under armed escort.

The final act in the prosecution had taken 20 minutes.

Meantime, the community that Johnson loved to serve will remember him again, this time with the first JJ Memorial Softball Fundraiser.

Police will play firefighters in the benefit to raise money for training Nyssa first responders. The public event, including food, raffles and silent auction, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 15, in the Nyssa city park that now bears the fallen officer’s name – JJ Johnson Park.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, speaks about the impact of the shooting death of Nyssa Police Department Cpl. Joseph Johnson during a sentencing proceeding on Friday, April 5, in Malheur County Circuit Court. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
Rene Castro sits with attorney Dean Smith as he is sentenced on Friday, April 5, for killing Joseph Johnson, a reserve corporal with the Nyssa Police Department. The murder happened while Johnson was on patrol on April 15, 2023. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
Linda Johnson, the wife of slain Nyssa Police Department Cpl. Joseph Johnson, speaks in Malheur County Circuit Court on Friday, April 5, during the sentencing of Rene Castro. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)


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