Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TOP STORY >> Testimony raises doubts

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

A private investigator hired to help compile a case against former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his codefendants testified Tuesday in Cabot that he argued with prosecutors and quit when at least one charge against the chief didn’t meet his standard of corroboration. Glenn Rings, the investigator, said that upon leaving, he warned Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain and her staff “please be objective.”

McCastlain said Tuesday that Rings was hired to find just such problems with the charges and that more evidence had been amassed pertaining to the case. Rings also opened the door for the defense to receive copies it had sought of videotapes of all of the state’s witness interviews. Rings testified that when he interviewed witness Ryan Childress, something triggered his suspicion, but he didn’t know what. Upon reviewing the videotaped interview, he discovered Childress carried two cell phones, leading him to wonder if Childress were an informant for some governmental agency.

Defense attorney Patrick Benca pounced on that statement, using it to reintroduce the question of whether or not the prosecution must provide videotapes to the defense. The prosecution had agreed to provide voice recordings of the same interviews, but Benca has asserted that sometimes there are important nonverbal clues, and Rings’ comment apparently tilted the argument in his favor.

Earlier in the pretrial hearing, Special Judge John Cole had signaled that at most, he would allow the defense to have limited access to excerpts from those witness-interview videotapes, just after each witness’ testimony. But shortly after Rings’ testimony, Cole told McCastlain, “I’m going to order you to turn over the videos.” Benca also asked for copies of all of Ring’s notes. “I’m entitled to anything impeachable, mitigating or exculpatory,” Benca told the judge. He argued that McCastlain must provide all transcripts, voice and video recordings of interviews with potential witnesses.

McCastlain argued that Benca was “being prejudicial for the sake of the media.” “Here I am, two weeks out from a four or six week trial, with 6,500 pages of documents, 5,000 pages of testimony,” argued Benca, and discovery evidence was trickling in. “My client faces 100 years in prison,” he said.

“If the court says turn them over, we will,” said McCastlain. “The state wants (the defendants) to have the fairest trial possible. (Benca) can have anything he wants.” Jury selection is set for Feb. 20 and the trial for Feb. 27. Campbell, his wife Kelly Harrison Campbell and bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox are being tried on a variety of charges, all under the umbrella of running and participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise. The chief is charged with running an ongoing criminal enterprise and his wife and Cox with being members. Criminal enterprise convictions trigger longer sentences.

The Campbells are charged with various theft and drug charges. Kelly Campbell is also charged with having sex with inmates in her husband’s jail. Cox, Jay Campbell and bail bondsman Larry Norwood are charged with conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine.