Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

TOP STORY >>Scandal trial in Cabot is underway

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Opening statements and testimony could begin in Cabot as early as Thursday in the 72-count criminal enterprise, drug and theft trial of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and two co-defendants.

Jury selection began Tuesday and is slated to continue Wednesday for the high-profile trial, which could last six to eight weeks and see 250 or 300 witnesses called.

Sean O’Nale, Campbell’s friend and former second-in-command, has been promised immunity for his testimony regarding the charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain told the court. The conspiracy charges are filed against Campbell and bail bondsmen Bobby Junior Cox and Larry Norwood.

The three men allegedly cooked up a scheme to have one criminal manufacture meth to entrap a second man believed to know the whereabouts of a man who skipped out on an expensive bond that could have cost the bail bondsmen a lot of money.

The Cabot District Courtroom has been remodeled to accommodate the mega trial, moved so that the rest of the Lonoke Circuit Court docket would not be put on hold for that length of time. Both Campbell and his wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, are charged with about three-dozen crimes each.

The former chief is charged with masterminding a continuing criminal enterprise. His wife and bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox are charged with participating in that enterprise. McCastlain last month dropped the criminal enterprise charge against Norwood and severed his methamphetamine conspiracy trial from that of the Campbells and Cox.

The defense attorneys, led by Patrick Benca, renewed a handful of motions previously denied by Special Judge John Cole—including motions to dismiss all charges and to sever the cases, and he asked for clarification on other rulings, mostly firming up the record for appeal in the event of conviction.

Cole denied those motions again. Benca, who is Jay Campbell’s lawyer, has taken the lead throughout the hearings. Mark Hampton represents Kelly Campbell and John Wesley Hall represents Cox.

Upon Benca’s motions, the state dismissed four counts of theft from Lonoke resident Woody Evans’ home, agreeing that the statute of limitations had expired. McCastlain said she might still call Evans to testify to “prior bad acts” by the Campbells.
The state also dismissed two charges against the former chief, one involving controlled- substance fraud, the other to avoid transporting a witness from an out-of-state federal penitentiary.

Cole did not dismiss cases that involved crimes allegedly committed at the home of Jacksonville resident Monique Mosby. Benca said any crime there was outside the jurisdiction of the Lonoke prosecutor’s office.

Benca renewed motions to suppress testimony of some witnesses because he said the prosecution didn’t fulfill its Brady obligations to let the defense know about exculpatory evidence. Cole reaffirmed his denial of all those motions for all three defense attorneys.

Cole ordered the prosecution to let the defense know each evening which witnesses it anticipated calling the next day.
Cole interviewed each prospective juror privately regarding their knowledge or prejudice regarding the case and whether or not they would be able to serve for as long as eight weeks.

Cole said he would rule later on whether or not the defense could bring Cox’s shotgun into the courtroom to impugn testimony that Cox wielded a sawed-off shotgun during a particular incident. If the shotgun is allowed into court, the bailiff will bring it in, Cole said.

The defense was given six preemptory challenges and the defense eight, plus an additional one for each of the three defendants.