Suspect accused of threatening Carson City judge makes court appearance

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - Charges have been filed against a Reno man in the case of threats made against a judge.

Aston mugshot courtesy Carson City jail

John Aston, 74, made his initial appearance in Carson Justice Court on March 22, 2017. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for April

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong announced March 21, 2017 that after forensic tests determined Aston's DNA matched the DNA found on a card mailed to the judge, Aston was charged with Aggravated Stalking, Arson, and Discharging a Firearm into an Occupied Dwelling

Aston had emerged as the sole person of interest in the years-long investigation into threats against Carson Judge John Tatro.

The case dates to December 2012 when someone fired a shot through the front door of Judge Tatro's home. A year later a threatening card was sent to the judge and his wife. Finally in May of 2014, it escalated to an attempted firebombing at the judge's home.

There were tantalizing bits of evidence. A brief glimpse of the person behind the threat on security video just before the firebombing, what was believed to be his car driving by shortly before. And DNA left on the stamp on that threatening card. That's the DNA that new tests indicate matches Aston's.

Investigators knew a lot about the person, but without a motive his identity remained elusive. So, with the statute of limitations running out on the oldest incident, they turned to an unusual tactic, a rarely used warrant with no name, just the person's DNA profile.

They still needed a break and they got one when they received a tip in early February 2017 that a man being held in the Washoe County jail on a 2011 contempt of court charge from Carson City should be asked about Judge Tatro. That man was 74-year-old John Aston, who had twice appeared before Judge Tatro. Furlong says Aston had been treated at Reno's VA Hospital under a different name, and when a suspicious security guard looked into it, he found the real name and the contempt charge, which led to Aston being jailed. The guard says Aston had made comments about Tatro, and carried with him two handguns and clippings of news articles about the Tatro case.

"His first appearance (before Tatro) was in 2005 on a traffic citation," says Sheriff Ken Furlong. "And then again in 2011 he appeared after he was arrested on concealed weapons charges after an encounter with an officer here in Carson."

Looking further into Aston's background, detectives discovered a storage unit in his name, and inside was a Mercedes Benz similar to the one on the security video, one they had scoured Reno and surroundings looking for. They also found flammable materials possibly used in the arson.

Aston is still being held in the Carson City jail.

The difficult thing about the investigation was always the motive. Thousands of people have appeared before Judge Tatro over the years and investigators always believed the motive might be traced to some obscure relatively minor slight that simply festered in someone's mind.

How that might fit into Aston's history with the judge isn't known, but we have learned he and the judge exchanged angry words at that 2005 court appearance. The charge? A speeding ticket.

See the attached links for earlier stories about this case.