Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Prosecutor mulls Campbell retrial

Leader staff writers

“We’re still in research mode,” Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland said Monday when asked if he thought his office would retry former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday overturned Campbell’s 2007 conviction on charges of operating a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine and numerous charges of theft and theft by receiving, and remanded the cases back to Lonoke County.

Feland said he would confer with those who prosecuted the case — with the attorney general’s office and with the State Police’s lead investigator Charles McLemore, since retired — before deciding. Campbell had served about 30 months of a 40-year sentence.

He will have a hearing in two weeks to determine his future.

Jay Campbell was sentenced to 40 years as the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise, 30 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 20 years for each of six counts of residential burglary, 10 years for each of seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and various other drug or theft related charges.

To retry Campbell on the continuing criminal-enterprise charge would constitute double jeopardy, according to his attorney, Patrick Benca.

None of the evidence seized at his home can be used because the Supreme Court ruled it was obtained by use of an improper search warrant. Benca said there was no probable cause to issue that warrant.

As to whether or not the former chief should be retried, county residents are divided.

“If he was in the wrong, he should be punished,” said Wilma Ray of Cabot.

A Lonoke County resident formerly from Hot Springs who did not want to be named said, “I was very much surprised when he was charged and convicted. I would be in favor of him being released. I knew him and his mother and I’m decidedly in favor for him getting another chance. He was a very nice boy in high school.”

“I have a lot of respect for Judge Cole. He’s been on the bench a long time,” said Pat Howell, a Lonoke alderman who was critical of Campbell back when the story was unfolding. “But if he made the mistakes (the Supreme Court said), Jay ought to be set free.”

“I figure he was probably guilty and they found a loop hole. It is politics,” said Jimmy Hall of Austin.

Cecil Bayless of Ward said, “I think part of it was true and part of it was not true. They just wanted to get rid of them. Some people in other towns do the same things. They didn’t get charged or accused.”