Leader Blues

Friday, February 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> Ex-chief to get 15 years after his guilty plea

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Former Lonoke Police Chief Ronald Jay Campbell entered a negotiated plea of no contest to four felonies before Lonoke Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore on Friday. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with credit for about 36 months already served.

Campbell faced 17 charges, according to Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland. His pleas were to two burglaries, one theft of property and one count of obtaining drugs by fraud.

The other 13 charges were nolle prossed — no longer pursued.

He goes back to prison Friday.

Feland said he believed that Campbell’s first parole eligibility could be sometime this year.

His wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, is serving 10 years in prison and will be eligible for parole this year also.

Campbell’s sentence was “an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines,” Feland said, because he was in a position of trust, had multiple victims and multiple counts. He was sentenced as a habitual criminal.

He will be unable to own a firearm and can’t get a job in law enforcement, according to Feland.

“That was important to us. The general sense, the universal consensus, the victims wanted closure,” Feland said.

Patrick Benca, Campbell’s attorney, had prepared motions to dismiss the cases, citing double jeopardy and for a change of venue.

The prosecution faced additional burdens of pressing a case where one important witness—Ronald Adams—had died and where evidentiary rules were not yet certain, since Campbell’s original convictions had been overturned by the state Supreme Court, Feland said.

On Nov. 5, the state Supreme Court overturned Campbell’s 2007 convictions on 23 charges including running a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and a bevy of burglary and drug-related charges. The court remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

Benca, said the state was “overreaching” in its efforts to convict Campbell as kingpin of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

The court also threw out all evidence collected at the Campbell home, saying there was not reasonable cause for issuance of a search warrant.

“It’s the closing of a chapter,” said Benca, who was Campbell’s attorney through the original trial. “It was a long process and it appears to be done.”

“We worked on this all morning,” Benca said of the negotiated plea. “Neither side is particularly happy, but that’s what negotiation is about.”

Campbell did not give a statement other than pleading no contest.

“He told me it was important to his family that he get this behind him and the residents of Lonoke as well,” Benca said.