Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Prosecution wins big one

A Lonoke County jury deliberated less than two days before finding former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly guilty on multiple corruption charges involving sex, drugs, stolen jewelry, misuse of prisoners and a host of other serious accusations.

A jury in Cabot on Tuesday accepted the prosecution’s case almost in its entirety. Kelly Campbell was found guilty on 26 charges and not guilty on five, while Jay Campbell was found guilty on 23 counts and not guilty on six. They face long prison sentences unless the jury’s verdict is overturned.

Last night, the couple received more bad news from the jury. It recommended he be sentenced to 315 years in the state prison, while she’s facing being locked up for 304 years in a women’s penitentiary, where she will be kept away from male prisoners, quite a change for someone who rendezvoused with the male population at the Lonoke Jail while her husband was in charge there.

Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCas-tlain put her reputation on the line when she filed the complex case against Jay Campbell and his co-conspirators, essentially arguing that the former police chief used his badge to pervert justice in Lonoke and enriched himself with jewelry and other valuables to support his drug habit as well as his wife’s.

There was much more to this case, but the jury accepted virtually all the charges she filed against the Campbells. McCastlain and her deputy, Stewart Clearley, went through the charges point by point, reminding the jury in their closing arguments that the Campbells set themselves up as a lawless couple who thought they could violate the law and rules of decency and do as they pleased. The jury has now told the couple that there’s a high price to pay when you think you’re above the law. The stiff sentences reflect the jury’s disgust with the couple’s behavior.

It was an astonishing case that stunned Lonoke and received national media attention, from the National Enquirer to CNN, and involved more than just the Campbells, who were charged with running a continuous criminal enterprise while he was in charge of law enforcement in Lonoke. A couple of bail bondsmen have also been indicted and the fallout tarnished the reputation of former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett, who was caught using state prisoners held at the city jail to do chores around his house.

Amazingly, Privett had hired Campbell as his police chief, despite a controversial past in law enforcement, with rumors of drugs, sex and even murder dogging him wherever he went. Why Privett hired Campbell in the first place remains a mystery. Another mystery is why Campbell’s attorney put him on the witness stand. A universal courtroom rule is that you don’t let your client testify if you have a shaky defense.

The Campbells running the Lonoke Jail was like putting the lunatics in charge of the insane asylum, but actually a lot worse: A criminal element took over Lonoke’s law-enforcement as if it existed for their private pleasure and gain until Prosecutor McCastlain put her case together against a band of outlaws and convinced the jury that the Campbells must pay for their criminal activities.

The people of Lonoke can now resume their normal lives, their long nightmare having finally ended.
Thanks to Lona McCastlain, she has cleaned the place up. She has won a major corruption case and has proven herself once again a tough prosecutor.