Why did Ian Campbell kill his fiancee, Heather Domenie? How did he kill her, exactly? Does the answer to either question matter when you think about whether he should be executed for his crime? After seven days in the Wake County Courthouse reporting on Campbell's trial, I can't tell you why, and I can't tell you how--not with absolute certainty, anyway. But I can tell you that I'm comfortable being against the death penalty, because if I weren't, I know I'd be thinking what my unnamed friend said after he testified: Fry him.
But the jury didn't fry him. To my amazement, this group of 12 men and women chosen for their stated belief that the death penalty is an appropriate penalty in some murders took only an hour to say that this murder--this brutal, cowardly, senseless killing--wasn't one of them. (If you're against the death penalty, you can't serve on a capital jury.)
I shouldn't have been amazed. I knew going in that the 30-year-old Campbell wouldn't get a death sentence because he doesn't fit the profile of people who do. They're black, mostly. Campbell's white. They've grown up in poverty; one parent, if that; often sexually abused as children; gotten into drugs; gotten into trouble; prior records. Campbell was a Boy Scout, literally; degrees in engineering; $10,000 a week job, no down payment needed on a four-bedroom Cary keeper; both parents, and brothers, in court with him throughout the trial.
Most of all, the poor slugs who are sentenced to die get inexperienced lawyers at best, and all too frequently criminally negligent ones. Campbell's family paid for Tommy Manning and James Crouch, and I'm tempted to say they gave him a better defense than he deserved, but no, every criminal defendant, and certainly every defendant on trial for his life, deserves the best possible defense, yes?
Right now, the state House of Representatives is thinking about a bill, already passed by the Senate, for a two-year moratorium on the death penalty while we examine its use, or misuse. Here's a head start, taken from a study by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers and the Common Sense Foundation: Of the 1,000 homicides committed in North Carolina annually, only about 28, or 2.8 percent, result in a death sentence; the chances are lowest (1.7 percent) when both the killer and victim(s) are non-white; 2.6 percent when they're both white; they jump to 6.4 percent when the killer is non-white and the victim(s) are white.
Oh, I know, it's supposed to be the "aggravating" and "mitigating" circumstances, and the judge in Campbell's case spent half an hour just reading to the jury about how to decide about those things and how much weight to give them. (According to the "totality" of things. And the 12 jurors must be unanimous about whether something's aggravating.)
And then the jury was back. No aggravating factors, they announced. The prosecutor, Howard Cummings, had proposed two. One was flimsy: The $750,000 insurance policy ("pecuniary gain") that looked so suspicious it wasn't even issued at the time of the killing, and Campbell knew it might not be. But the second wasn't flimsy at all: The murder was "especially heinous and cruel," Cummings argued, because Campbell--by his own account--strangled Domenie to death, which took at least four minutes of her fear and her pain.
Well, it was heinous, the defense admitted. But not especially heinous, "as these things go" (Manning). Pleading for his son's life, Aulden Campbell told the jury that Ian was "not Jeffrey Dahmer, or the Washington sniper, he's a young man who made a very tragic mistake."
Goodness and Mercy: Ian made a mistake, and then lied about it. And kept lying about it, saying he didn't do it, right up to the trial. Then, facing the prospect that he was going to be convicted of first-degree murder regardless, and maybe executed, too, if he didn't come clean, Campbell told a different story. He admitted the killing, but said he didn't remember it (attempting, unsuccessfully, to dodge premeditation), except that they were face-to-face, Heather slapped him, and when it was over, he was still facing her, horrified at what he'd done.
Let's review. Campbell, child of privilege, kills his fiancee, with whom he's lived for four years, so he can be with his new love, a younger, sleeker, richer woman. He kills Heather, rather than just leave her, because he's a coward. He lies about it, and is still lying, because the physical evidence couldn't be clearer that he didn't kill her face-to-face, he strangled her from behind (not a mark on him, therefore).
If you believe in the death penalty, here's your case. If you don't, you'll agree with James Crouch, Campbell's co-counsel: There's no excuse for what he did, no justification "in the law or the code of human responsibility." And yet, he is human, and he is capable of redemption, of doing whatever you can to make something right that can't be made right. "He's got good in him," Crouch said. "And if you give him an opportunity, he can come to peace with this."
CitiZen will be taking a summer break. But don't hesitate to e-mail Bob Geary at firstname.lastname@example.org.