Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

TOP STORY >>Trial going to jury Monday

Leader senior staff writer

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain wrapped up closing arguments in the corruption, drug and theft trial of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly Friday evening, showing jurors an exterior picture of the couple’s idyllic, manicured, middleclass home, hiding a turbulent, disheveled interior.

She called the house a metaphor for the former chief—a perfect picture on the outside and really messed up inside.
The jurors, in what the judge said was the longest criminal trial in state history, sat stoically through 90 minutes of instructions from Special Circuit Judge John Cole, followed by about seven hours of closing arguments. They will return at 9 a.m. Monday—the beginning of the trial’s eighth week—for an explanation of verdict forms and to begin deliberations, Cole said.

Campbell, a large friendly man, usually quick to smile, sat intently with a furrowed brow at the defense table, leaning in from time to time to talk with Patrick Benca, his lawyer.

Kelly Campbell, his codefendant, patted her lawyer Mark Hampton on the back following his closing argument. Both Campbells are codefendants on dozens of theft, burglary and prescription narcotic possession charges as well as the overarching charge of participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise and other crimes.

Jay Campbell is charged with running the enterprise, while his wife and bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox are charged with participating. The linchpin of the criminal enterprise charge was the conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine charge against Campbell, Cox and fellow bail bondsman Larry Norwood.

In her closing, McCastlain led the jury through the timeline of that conspiracy. The three men are alleged to have had Randy Adams cook some meth, sell it to Roger Light in September, 2004, arrest Light and make him reveal the whereabouts of his life-long friend Gene Beasley. Beasley skipped on a $150,000 bond and the bail bondsmen needed to get him or forfeit the money.

Deputy Prosecutor Stuart Cearley closed first, saying that the American legal system has its roots in the Magna Carta, where “no person, not even the king, is above the law.”

“Jay set himself up as king of Lonoke,” said Cearley, calling it the police chief’s fiefdom. “There were a lot of common crimes facilitated by the use of a badge,” Cearley added.

Then, witness-by-witness, crime-by-crime, Cearley reminded jurors with projected photographs and bullet points of the circumstances and testimony spread across nearly two months.

He said Campbell pulled people off the street, making deals, threatening arrest or prison if they didn’t cooperate. Dexter Washington, just out of prison, said he was intimidated into selling crack cocaine for the chief and paying him $2,000.
He’s violated the trust that goes with the office, Cearley said.

He said the Campbells stole from friends, neighbors and church friends who preferred letting the matter go to confronting them or else feeling it futile to file a police report in Lonoke. That was until Charlotte Hill threatened to go to the State Police, setting off a flurry of activity to recover from a pawn shop about $10,000 worth of jewelry they allegedly stole from her.
In his closing argument, Benca told the jury his interpretation of the continuing criminal enterprise law, and why the crimes of the Campbells and Cox didn’t fit that definition.

Criminal enterprise statutes are for gangs and organized crime, he said. He said a criminal enterprise requires at least two felonies and that each of those must have three members.

Cole ruled even before jury selection that the offenses could be spread among the three members or participants.
Benca reminded jurors that to find the Campbells guilty, they must find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that coincidence, bad policy, things Jay Campbell should have known, things that were highly suspicious, a preponderance or clear and convincing did not meet that standard. “We are talking about someone’s life,” he said.

He suggested that Lonoke Police Det. David Huggs, who testified for the prosecution and was evidence custodian, would himself be a good candidate for having taken drugs found missing from the evidence locker.

He said that drug dealer Ryan Childress, from whom Campbell is alleged to have stolen $15,000, didn’t mention the money through interviews with several investigators and that no officer was on record as ever having seen that money. Charge by charge, Benca told jurors by Campbell was not guilty, and why. Of the jewelry stolen from the Hills, Benca suggested that Campbell discovered that his brother—now dead—had stolen it and that he wanted to get it back so he wouldn’t have to arrest his brother.

Shane Scott, who testified against both Campbells “goes to bed thinking how he can manipulate and use people,” Benca said. He suggested that Scott had a relationship with Kelly Campbell mostly to get leverage on her husband.

Kelly Campbell’s lawyer Mark Hampton reminded the jurors that all charges that she had sex with inmates had been dropped.
“You have to determine whether Mrs. McCastlain has given you all the lumber, pieces, bolts to put together a mega crime case,” he said, comparing it to a backyard playground he tried to build for his children. He called inmate Scott, the chief witness against his client, a con man and a liar and urged jurors not to believe his testimony that she provided contraband in the form of alcohol, marijuana and a cell phone to him.