Campbell’s murder conviction stands

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By Susan Sharp

The state court of criminal appeals has upheld Zendall Campbell’s 2006 second-degree murder and aggravated assault conviction.

The ruling that affirms not only the conviction, but also subsequent sentencing, was handed down last Thursday.

Campbell is currently serving a 20 year prison sentence for shooting his estranged brother-in-law, Jason Rhodes, and assaulting his friend David Hall. Campbell and Rhodes had argued earlier the evening of March 17, 2005 at the Silver Dollar Bar in Stinking Creek, trial testimony revealed.

A few hours later, another confrontation ensued at a trailer. That is when the shooting took place, court records said.

While Campbell’s attorney, Michael Hatmaker, attempted to convince the justices three reasons existed to overturn the conviction, he failed to do so.

Hatmaker asked the panel to review if Campbell was given an improper denial of evidence being submitted at trial.

Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton refused to allow the jury to hear statements made to police by Campbell immediately after his arrest and the shooting, Hatmaker argued.

In his case, Hatmaker claimed Campbell’s statements were relevant because they supported his claim of self-defense and showed his state of mind on that night.

Campbell told police he saw Rhodes reaching for gun and felt threatened. He also admitted he shot Rhodes, telling authorities he was sorry for his actions, the court record said.

It was ruled by the panel that when Campbell said he was sorry for the killing that demonstrated his state of mind after the shooting not at the time of it.

The panel was also asked to consider Campbell’s statements as utterances made in the excitement of the moment. Sexton had informed Hatmaker at trial that if he wanted these statements made known to the jury, he would have to call the witnesses who took the statements, the court record said. Hatmaker, according to the opinion, said he understood that but at no pint, revisited the issue of having the statements admitted.

The opinion issued by the justices said Sexton didn’t abuse the court’s discretion when he excluded the statements from being shared with the jury.    

Also among the arguments Hatmaker presented was the potential lack of evidence presented at the trial to support Campbell’s second-degree murder conviction.

Hatmaker acquiesced the evidence did support Campbell could have committed voluntary manslaughter, the ruling said. However, for the crime he was found guilty of the evidence was lacking, the court record said.

The justices said voluntary manslaughter exists if the killing is committed “in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.” After they reviewed the evidence in the case, the three justice panel said it agreed, as the jury did, it was sufficient to sustain the second-degree murder verdict.

Hatmaker also asked the justices to rule as to whether the trial court made a mistake when it failed to include reckless endangerment as a lesser included charge to the aggravated assault.

In his argument Hatmaker said he did fail to ask Sexton, in writing, to include reckless endangerment when he instructed the jury. But said he felt submitting the request in writing was not needed.

The discussion regarding the lesser included offenses was held on the record Hatmaker argued, according to the state court documents.

Prosecutors said that because Hatmaker didn’t ask in writing for reckless endangerment to be provided as an option for conviction and he didn’t object to how Sexton instructed the jury this is moot point.

It was agreed on by the panel that Sexton has not committed an error in this area.

At the trial the medical examiner testified Rhodes died after being shot through the head with a high velocity rifle.