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July 7, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, July 7, 2010 5B McConnell found guilty c,f second-degree murder Joshua Sebold Staff Writer jsebold@plumasnews.com A jury of eight men and four women found William McConnell, 54, guilty of sec- ond-degree murder Thursday, July 1, with an enhancement for using a firearm in the commission of a felony. McConnell shot 22-year-old Eduardo Campos to death last August on McConnell's prop- erty in the Frenchman Lake area, where both men were residents. McConnell is scheduled for sentencing Thursday, Aug. 19, at 1:30 p.m. Deputy District Attorney III Dave Hollister, who recently won election to become the next DA, prosecuted the case. Local attorney Robert Zer- nich represented the defen- dant, and visiting Judge James Cadle presided over the matter. The prosecution In his opening and closing arguments, Hollister indicat- ed that Campos died trying to flee from McConnell, who was chasing him with a gun after an argument. The deputy DA said Campos jumped into the defendant's pickup truck, which didn't re- quire a key to start. He said McConnell shot at the truck, hitting a tire and the gas tank, and later shot Campos after he exited the truck and tried to run away. Hollister showed the jury photos of Campos lying in a ditch, several feet below a spot where he said McConnell shot down at the defendant. The attorney explained Mc- Connell had visited Campos once before, bringing beers over to the victim's trailer and discussing the fact their dogs had mated. Hollister said that ex- plained why Campos arrived at the defendant's house with a bottle of vodka, telling the defendant that his all-terrain vehicle was in need of repair and he wanted to use the de- fendant's tools. The incoming DA said both men were extremely intoxi- cated when the shooting oc- curred, with McConnell regis- tering a .16 blood-alcohol level the next day when officers ar- rived and Campos's body reg- istering at .29. Hollister said the defense might argue Campos was try- ing to steal the pickup truck but that was absurd because he had no use for the truck as a sheepherder out in the mid- dle of nowhere. He told the jury Campos got in the truck because he and McConnell, who didn't have much language in common, got into an argument, Mc- Connell got his .45 handgun, and Campos "needed to get the heck out of there." Hollister said the defendant described Campos suddenly attacking him without warn- ing after the two had been conversing peacefully for some time in a mix of Spanish and English. The deputy DA indicated McConnell told officers he threw Campos off the porch, felt bad, helped him up, and saw the victim kicking his dog, which led to the part where the victim got in the truck and McConnell got his handgun, with the order of those two events differing de- pending on the point of view of the defense or prosecution. Hollister said McConnell took two shots at the truck with the handgun as Campos was backing up, and then went to retrieve his .30-.30 hunting rifle. The DA-elect referenced an interview transcript in which a detective said it seemed like Campos was trying as hard as he could to get off of the defen- dant's property and Mc- Connell agreed that was true. Hollister said McConnell's main justification for shoot- ing Campos was the victim was "acting psycho" and "psy- cho people come back." The deputy DA said the de- fendant walked 60 yards from his house to where the truck had become stuck in a large ditch and pulled the trigger of his .30-.30 twice, dry firing or missing hi6 target with the first shot, and hitting Campos with the second. He described the bullet en- tering the left shoulder with a downward and slightly from behind trajectory, with the bullet chopping the humerus bone in half, nearly severing the arm completely, passing through the victim's side, and almost exiting near the stom- ach on the right side. Hollister told the jury that a doctor's testimony proved the victim's arm was pinned to his side when the bullet hit it testified the dirt there stuck to things like flowers and that Campos only had dirt on the parts of him touching the ground, meaning he didn't crawl or roll when he fell. He also pointed to a tran- script where an investigator asked McConnell if Campos crawled or moved and the de- fendant responded that he just dropped. Hollister noted the doctor also testified that the arm was useless and limp once the bul- let struck. He argued that if Campos had been standing instead of cowering, gravity would have brought the arm down to his side, instead of near his head, where it was found. The attorney said if Campos was near the ground with his hands by his head he would have fallen forward and his arm would be in the position it was found in. He also indicated the door of the truck was jammed, meaning Campos had to move towards the defendant to get out of the truck, but his first boot track hit the ground side- ways, facing away from the defendant, and the tracks con- tinued in that direction and he was shot after taking sever- al steps. The attorney also pointed to pictures showing Campos would have had to run uphill in the steep ditch to get to Mc- Connell. Hollister argued that by def- inition this would be a first- degree murder in many cir- cumstances. He said to qualify for self- defense the defendant had to believe he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm, and the fear that Campos might be "psycho" and come back later wasn't legal justifi- cation for shooting him. The deputy DA told the ju- rors they could justify bring- ing back a verdict of second- degree murder if they be- lieved McConnell was pro- voked by the fight or had im- paired judgment because he property months beforehand before finally "coming clean." At the end of his closing ar- gument, Hollister told the jury the defendant wasn't the one afraid in this situation, Cam- pos was, "and (that) man right there just snuffed out his life," he added, pointing to Mc- Connell. The attorney said the de- fense had locals from the Frenchman Lake area testify in favor of McConnell's charac- ter but none of them had ever seem him as drunk as he was on the night of the shooting. He concluded by contending McConnell was practically un- harmed in the attack he said Campos directed towards him and in Plumas County you couldn't chase down and kill a man after every short quarrel. "That is not what our law is. That is not what our com- munity expects?' The defense In a short opening state- ment, Zernich told the jurors he was asking them not for a finding of second-degree mur- der, or manslaughter but for a complete acquittal on the ba- sis of self-defense. Zernich said the defendant was still drunk when investi- gators talked to him at the scene and was under the influ- ence of a tranquilizer given to him at the jail to address symptoms of alcohol with- drawal when his second inter- view took place. He said these issues and the fact the defendant had hepati- tis C contributed to his shaky memory. Zernich began his closing argument by saying Campos was a human being and the fact he was an illegal alien had no bearing on this case. Zernich also told the jurors that first-degree murder was "apparently off the table" be- cause Hollister was asking them to return a verdict of second degree. Judge Cadle apparently dis- agreed with this, as he gave the final jury instructions for all the available charges, in- abdomen. Hollister showed pictures of Campos lying face down with his hands near his head. He argued there were not many body positions in which an arm was pressed against the ribs and that Campos was likely cowering with his hands covering his head when he was shot. Hollister said many people who visited the crime scene e the jurors their job was to de- cide legal guilt and "the guy upstairs decides moral guilt." Zernich contended there was reasonable doubt about whether McConnell was justi- fied in killing Campos. He said Hollister's argu- ments about the position Cam, pos was shot in were specula- tiol and none of the expe]:t witnesses testified Campos was in the position Hollister said he was. He argued the doctor testi- fied that being shot in the side wouldn't make you drop in- stantly by itself. Zernich said Campos was so drunk he was "running around psycho, crazy, doing crazy things." He told the jury Campos "stole the truck" before he knew McConnell had a gun and that if he wanted to run he would have hid in the woods. Zernich said McConnell was the only witness and all the ju- ry had to go on was his testi- mony that Campos came at him when he exited the truck and that Hollister couldn't prove what happened. He said McConnell didn't have a motive to shoot Cam- pos and maybe he angered the victim by accidentally saying the wrong thing in Spanish while trying to communicate with him. "Mr. McConnell speaks English or American, depend- ing on how we look at it," Zer- nich told the jury. He argued Campos was younger and stronger than McConnell, who was weak- ened by his hepatitis. He also characterized Campos's large work boots as potential weapons. The defense attorney said his client had good intentions and called the cops when he could have hidden the evi- dence and pretended nothing ever happened. Zernich told the jury Mc- Connell had no motive to shoot Campos, and the victim must have done something to provoke him. He said for all he executed his drunken three-point-turn. The attorney said the aver- age person would react the way McConnell did if assault- ed on his own front porch. Zernich argued Hollister was relying upon circumstan- tial evidence like the dirt on Campos and the positions of his body and hands. He said the scene could have changed between the time the shooting happened and when police showed up the next day. Rebuttal In his opportunity to re- spond to Zernich's closing ar- gument, Hollister referenced the jury instructions, which indicated circumstantial evi- dence could be used to get a conviction. He said reasonable doubt was a higher standard than possible doubt and told the ju- rors they had been instructed to ,accept the reasonable and reject the unreasonable" when considering evidence and theories of the crime. The prosecutor contended logic dictated Campos wouldn't be found in the place he was in or the position he was in if he was coming after the defendant. He said there was no evi- dence Campos went towards the defendant after exiting the truck. He also disagreed that the defendant could have hidden the shooting and was noble to have reported it. Hollister said Campos had flocks of sheep running around the valley and people knew he was there. He argued that McConnell chose to do the next best thing: Take advantage of be- ing the only living witness of the event. The prosecutor said Mc- Connell admitted he was an- gry at Campos and that "every Friday night ... we'd have murders left and right" if peo- ple were allowed to shoot someone every time they got in a fist fight. Hollister said the defendant chose to get his weapons, was drunk cludm r he knew Campos was trying o " id he thou ht Mc ' g the first deg ee. 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