Man arrested for threats against judge makes first court appearance

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - UPDATE MARCH 22:
John Aston had his initial appearance in court in Carson City March 22, 2017. He was read his charges and asked if he understood them. He responded he did, though he said he hadn't seen them in writing until just before the hearing.

He is being defended by a public defender. His preliminary hearing is set for April 6.

He is still in jail in Carson City in lieu of $250,000 bail.

ORIGINAL STORY:
It was, perhaps, the most extensive investigation in Carson City history and, in the end it was broken by an errant hospital bill.

The case began in 2012, when someone fired two shots into the front door of Judge John Tatro's Carson City home.

Two years later, another chilling threat--a card sent to the judge and his wife. "You will die," it read.

Then an attempted fire bombing at the judge's home. Milk jugs of alcohol set afire at his garage door.

There were clues, including a brief glimpse of the arsonist on a home security camera and the suspect's car, a Mercedes sedan, driving past the home.

Tips came in, leads were followed. It was a major investment in time and resources, not only at the sheriff's office, bur a list of other agencies.

"Thousands of hours," says Sheriff Ken Furlong. "Federal, state and local agencies including all of our counterparts up in Washoe County. Many, many man hours were spent on this."

"The acts were not just against Judge Tatro as an individual," says District Attorney Jason Woodbury.. "The acts were against the integrity of the criminal justice system. So we took it as seriously as we could possibly take a case."

For all their work, investigators still had no clue to the stalker's identity.

They did have his DNA taken from the threatening card and the jugs used in the abortive firebombing.

With statutory limits running out on the oldest of the incidents, Woodbury asked for and got an unusual legal document--an arrest warrant with no name, just a DNA profile.

But without a suspect the case was still stuck.

Then the VA Medical Center in Reno began receiving complaints from a veteran living in another state. He'd been getting bills regarding a stay there. but he was not the patient.

A VA security officer investigated, and found 74-year-old John Thomas Aston had checked in using the veteran's identity.

Checking further, he discovered there was a 2011 arrest warrant issued for Aston for failure to appear on a weapons charge. The judge who issued the warrant--John Tatro.

Aston was arrested. A check of the belongings he took to the hospital found two handguns and news clippings about the Tatro case. Investigators found a Sparks storage unit he had rented. Inside, a Mercedes sedan like the one seen at the firebombing and more evidence.

Investigators had their person of interest. All that remained was a DNA match. Finally they had it.

Aston was arrested in the Carson City Jail for discharging a firearm into an occupied building, 4th degree arson and aggravated stalking--all felonies.

His threats were apparently motivated by a second appearance before Judge Tatro on a speeding ticket.

Many could share in the outcome. All, including the VA security officer, Brad Norman, and lead detective Sam Hatley were thanked at a news conference March 21, 2017.

"I think everybody is grateful that this has come to an end," says Hatley, "not just for the investigators but for the judge and his family. He's no longer worried about this individual coming after him or his family."

Potential sentences for the three felonies add up to 25 years.