Thursday, April 2, 2009

"He's down, he got shot."


So we don't lose sight of who has been lost to us—Officer Jeffrey Fontana

In the absence of any pressing work on my part, I attended the trial of DeShawn Campbell here in San José. Campbell is on trial for gunning down Officer Jeffrey Fontana in October 2001. I've wanted to go just to offer support to Jeff's family and to just thank the police for being a visible presence in San José.

Yes, that’s two thousand one. Nearly seven and a half years. The defense attorney, a tall man with the surname of Souza, is a typical defense attorney who has the “delay delay delay” ability down pat. He’s very Chris Plourd-like in his demeanor. (I wrote "need Plourdicil" in my notes). Souza’s the genius who managed to get the death penalty removed from consideration when he found himself an expert witness (at taxpayer cost) to declare his client "mentally retarded."

While you are waiting for me to get it together, please visit Officer Fontana’s brother Greg’s blog, Justice for Jeffrey.

Greg and his mom Sandy deserve to know there are people out there who do care about our men and women on the street, and are outraged by not only the delay in justice, but the deplorable defense tactics.

I’ll have something up later tonight once I decipher my notes and pull myself together.

Update: Thursday, April 2, 2009

I am going to be upfront and state I am firmly on the side of the prosecution in this tragedy.

So if a reader has a problem with my lack of objectivity, please encourage the San José Mercury News or Channel 11 to send a reporter to hear testimony. There has been little media coverage except for the anniversary of Officer Jeffrey Fontana’s murder, and of during opening arguments. Just because my undergrad degree is from a school of journalism doesn’t mean in this capacity I am an objective observer.

If you can live with that, read on.

The Santa Clara County Superior Court building is an eight-stop light rail ride for me. Unfortunately I have zero sense of direction and have no idea which way to walk, and I ask the light rail operator, who’d exited the train’s cab to switch off drivers. She pointed me in the right direction, and I jaywalked across the street to avoid a full-block walk to the first available crosswalk.

The court building is right next to the main county jail. Defendants are brought into court through a tunnel system. The People v. Campbell is being heard in Department 38, Judge Diane Northway. Judge Northway agreed with one of the defense expert-for-hire who declared the defendant, De Shawn Campbell, to be mentally retarded. Campbell has a court-appointed attorney that is NOT a public defender, Edward Souza. Souza has been a master of delay tactics, claiming to be ready to go to trial for quote some time, but maneuvering to have his client declared mentally retarded, which was finally accomplished last year, taking the death penalty (this is a special circumstances case) off the table.

I make the metal detector go off. Twice. I take off my belt the first time and still it goes off. I have no change, and my purse has gone through the x-ray machine. The sheriff asks me to pull my pants up so he can see my ankles. It’s only later in court I remember I have dozens of vascular clamps in my abdomen, a consequence of back surgery in 1992, and two screws in my knees. I’ll know what to say next time. I ask the deputy where the cop killer trial is, and he directs me to the elevator and department 38, sixth floor. I have no idea of the time; court was supposed to start at 1 p.m. and I walk so darn slow, I have to be late.

I’m not late, I get off the elevator and I immediately see Greg Fontana and his mom Sandy. They look exactly like their photos in the Merc. Greg is tall and athletic (well he’s taller than I am) and he’s so easy to talk to. Sandy Fontana is a petite strawberry blonde spitfire who knows the case as well, if not better, than DA Lane Liroff. Both are kind, approachable and immediately likable. I introduced myself and said I’d be blogging for T & T.

Jurors aren’t back from lunch. I let the Fontanas know that there is a delay in Spector so here I am, the blog needs coverage and I’ve been meaning to attend to offer my meaningless support. I have never met this family, but I will tell you something: I know I would have liked Jeff a whole lot!

Coming into a trial is like coming into a movie halfway though, or missing a two-episode television show, but there is no one who sets you up and reminds you where you are. I refer readers to Greg Fontana’s blog (

So on the stand is a 40–50-something woman with dirty blonde hair. She’s on cross-examination, and Souza is being gentle with her. She’s an investigator who had interviewed the “real “ killer, Rodney McNary, while he was in Kern Valley State Prison in Delano.

To use a parallel investigator we all understand, this woman, Sally Graver, is of the ilk of Tawni Tyndall. It’s not so much the truth, but what can I get someone to say so I can drag as many people into this as possible.

During a pair of interviews with McNary (who has since been released from prison and is nowhere to be found—and you’ll understand why that’s important), McNary claimed to be running around lost in the Almaden Valley area, in Almaden Creek, after he ditched his black Mustang in a cul-de-sac following an incident with some guys in a gray Cougar. Graver interviewed McNary in 2004 and in 2005, but claims during the 2005 interview, defense attorney Souza took the lead in questioning.

McNary pretty much stuck to his story. The defense investigator never asked McNary if “he did it.”

So how did we get to McNary, the “real” killer? Greg helps me figure this whole mess out. McNary and Campbell left an ecstasy and kegger party (they showed up uninvited) at a cul-de-sac near Rhine and Rotterdam in south San Jose. There is a 1-ish a.m. 911 call (played at the end of the day) from a neighbor to this party who was calling from her home. On the tape you can hear screaming and cars revving. The call claimed there were six cars banging into each other in the cul-de-sac and that she thought she saw someone with a bat. A black Mustang (driven by McNary) bashed into a grey Cougar, and—get this—McNary, who already had two strikes pending against him (he went to jail for strike #2) hit a guy in the cul-de-sac and took off (that would have been strike #3 for McNary, hence he ran. He has not been prosecuted for this, and his whereabouts are currently unknown). The gray Cougar took chase down a main thoroughfare. McNary, being the seasoned felon he was, decided to ditch the Mustang in a cul-de-sac (in the same SJ district but not near the party) to get away from the cops who were no doubt on their way looking for them. The five occupants of the Mustang, including Campell, ran like hell in different directions.

McNary ran the wrong way and got wet and lost in a creek bed. He figured out he was going the wrong way when he noticed a police helicopter flying over the area. This was the helicopter responding to Officer Fontana’s murder.

Campbell called a friend and asked for a ride home to get his dad’s car and gun. He’d been disrespected at the party and was going back to settle the score. Campbell had also been asked to break the ignition on the Mustang so it looked like the car had been stolen, not ditched.

Officer Fontana presumably stopped Campbell and the tan Hyundai because both were grossly out of place in that neighborhood at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Campbell pulled into the cul-de-sac across from the cul-de-sac where the Mustang had been ditched.

Eventually McNary gets himself out of the creek, steals a bike from a school he walks by, and rides toward home. There are cops everywhere, and he stops and asks if someone robbed a bank. McNary is detained by the officers, who ask McNary where he’d been (“gym”) and asked he take a seat on the curb until their sergeant released him. He proceeded on his way home.

Why oh why would McNary even go near the area if he’d been the one to shoot Officer Fontana? This trial is chock full of dummies, but an experienced felon like McNary wouldn’t be that dumb.

Rodney’s girlfriend Janee claimed Rodney “confessed” to her he did it, and she told the defense investigator this for the first time in 2005 (I believe. I defer to Greg’s blog for any missing facts. I’m coming into this late…) Rodney offered no details, the where (Calle Almaden) or the circumstances of killing the cop.

So why didn’t this person, who claimed to be a “good friend” of Campbell and his family, come forward immediately? She was terrified of McNary, of course.

Back in real-time, on the stand is a defense investigator who asked questions but tied up no loose ends whatsoever. She is as forgetful as can be when questioned by DA Liroff, and even short and snippy in her answers. When she is re-crossed by Souza, there is a definite pattern in her “I don't knows” and her answers. She’s asked mostly yes and no questions by Souza. She’s well rehearsed by Souza.

When DA Liroff stands up to re-direct, I can’t help notice how tired he looks. He has gray hair and a quiet demeanor, but not anything requiring Plourdicil.

I look at the make-up of the jury and alternates. Eight women, six men, White, Latino and Asian. They look like San José. There are not many black people living here. One juror is wearing a Jeff Gordon 24 NASCAR red t-shirt. Most are wearing black or blue with the exception of NASCAR guy and a female in a pretty peach sweater set.

Souza repeatedly asks questions that have been objected to by DA Liroff, and the objections are nonchalantly sustained by Judge Northway. A favorite phrase for "objection sustained" when dealing with the defense attorney is “that’s fine, we’re done.”

(She’s no Judge Fidler!)

During a break where the attorneys and judge are reviewing jury questions, Sandy reminds the DA’s investigator about the time line and inconsistencies, little things that the jury might wonder about. She knows the facts of this case as well as the DA, but she has that little something, she knows what the jurors might be wondering about—inconsistencies, misinformation, gaps in time. I have no doubt that Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff is living this case, but having sandy listen to the proceedings, anticipating the questions of the jury, is in valuable.

Another of today’s witnesses is a criminalist/toxicologist from the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, Ghazaleh Moayer. I have no idea why Liroff has called her. Her CV is discussed and she’s declared an expert witness. Liroff brings up a hypothetical:
What if you have a 190-pound man who, for three to five years, claims to have consumed 30 beers a day, 2 pints of Bacardi rum a day, is a frequent PCP, pot, heroin and meth user, takes prescription drugs including (narcotics) Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin; (psychotrophics) Seroquel, Effexor, Neurotonin, Clonopin; and (antidepressant) Paxil—all at the same time? (My question would have been did ONE doctor really write prescriptions for all of these drugs? Perhaps that had already been answered …)

Question: can the body tolerate that quantity of drugs and alcohol for three to five years? Answer: Not likely.

Cross-examination: Have you heard of drug abusers shooting meth or heroin into their eyelid? IF someone used that much meth, would they have auditory and visual hallucinations. Answer: someone taking that much drugs and alcohol probably wouldn't’ be conscious.

I have no idea what this has to do with anything, and during a sidebar, I ask Greg.

The defense attorney was trying to discredit a witness from earlier this week (see Greg’s April 1 entry regarding Ricardo Martinez). Martinez was the neighbor of Campbell Senior, and he heard a loud argument between the two Campbells, Sr. loudly demanding that DeShawn bring his gun back.

Preemptive strike: Ricardo Martinez heard what he heard. (My nurse-y opinion: It’s doubtful he really took the amount of drugs he claimed to take.)

Remember that after Officer Fontana was murdered, DeShawn Campbell left the Hyundai on site, went on the run and hid out with friends, and he retained possession of the gun until turning it over to a friend who dismantled it. He was arrested without incident following a tip, by plainclothes officers wearing raid vests—Campbell followed the arresting officer’s directions, but yelled, “Call the NAACP! Call 911! I don’t know who these guys are!”—after the officers had identified themselves as SJPD.

At the end of the afternoon, Liroff played 911 audio from a 1 a.m. call from a neighbor at the party. Cars crashing and people yelling can be heard in the background. The he played two 911 calls from around 4 a.m. They were the officer down calls.

The first call ended with the caller saying “Oh my God;” the second ended “He’s down, he got shot.”

I saw Sandy wipe her eyes. My eyes welled up with tears. I wiped my eyes on my shirt sleeves. I managed to hold on until the jury had left, and Greg and Sandy were talking to Liroff, who needed to talk to the pair. I did not say goodbye. I managed not to cry until I made it out of the building, to the end of the block, and walked to the light rail station. I pulled my sunglasses out of my purse and hoped no one saw me crying. I cried all the way home.

The final prosecution witness will be on Monday afternoon, then the defense begins their case. I imagine that Campbell will sit at the defense table, dressed in an argyle sweater with close-cropped hair, looking more like an overage college student. My guess is Souza will start some sort of character assassination of Jeff Fontana. Isn’t that what defense attorneys do? Perhaps Souza’s dug up some kid Jeff went to school with, and that person will testify that Jeff failed to feed his dog one evening. Obviously he got what was coming to him.

That's all you can do with an obviously guilty client. In the Mustang, DNA and prints were found of Rodney's. In the Hyundai, prints of De Shawn and not Rodney were present. So it's doubtful that DeShawn and Rodney were together in the Hyundai together at all that evening.

Not once was Jeff’s name mentioned in any of today’s testimony.

While I was scurrying to the light rail, I realized that Jeff and I both graduated from San José State University in May 2000. I was an older student, in my 40s; I remembered that right now, in 2009,  Jeff should be a seasoned officer, perhaps even a detective by now. SJSU is a big place, and of course he was an Administration of Justice major. Schools don’t mingle much at SJSU … I wish I’d known him.

I will try to go back, to show my support for the Fontanas. The media has virtually ignored this crime. Are we so callous that the murder of a cop does not garner proper media coverage?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for highlighting this. I am perplexed by the undue publicity from Dallas over the police officer who detained a person at the hospital after he ran a stop light. Right or wrong on the part of the police officer it is so disproportionate to the publicity of the man who shot and killed 4 police officers and others protested in support of him. There has been little or no attention given to the four officers who died doing their job.

Sprocket said...

Thank you for braving the traffic to attend this trial and report on the proceedings.

Even the average citizen can be a powerful voice to bring these trials to the public's attention.

Sprocket said...

Your expanded coverage was excellent CaliGirl9. It is beyond sad that the murder trial of a police officer is not given much notice in the press.

Anonymous said...

What's sad is the lack of T&T readers posting under this topic. Are they all too caught up in the Spector trial? That feak does not warrant any attention.

Thank you, Caligirl.

Anonymous said...

Sprocket, I'm so glad you are continuing to cover trials.

I'm hooked on your blog, and adore your writing. You are exceptionally gifted, but, the main ingredients that makes your blog compelling are your kind heart, keen eye for details that bring unique color to the trials, and your thirst for justice on behalf of victims and their families.

God bless you, as you have blessed so many in your life.

Take care,

CaliGirl9 said...

Readers, I can understand not wanting to leave comments. This is a very sad incident, and it's hard to know what to say. I usually write my pieces quickly and this one took me a good 6 hours.

I would ask you to go to Greg's blog and at least leave a comment that you hope things go right for his family during the trial. It's hard to have to watch a jury listen to the horrible details of Jeff's death, watch a defense attorney throw crap at the jury hoping to confuse them, and hope they see through the tactics.

It is nearly impossible for a jury to "disregard" anything that was said during an objection. Trust me.

Just read Greg's blog, and tell him you were there. Nothing elaborate...

Anonymous said...

I too am thankful for Sprocket. In an economy that is devastated with financial woes she has made us forget our daily issues with riveting reporting of a major criminal trial. Sure the sun will rise tomorrow and our same issues will confront us but WOW what a ride this has been. Thanks for taking the time to do what you do. :)

nd said...

Hi Cali,
Thank you for the great report on this trial, and for bringing this case to people like me who don't live in the area. It's a shame there isn't more attention paid to important cases like this. And I think something needs to be done to stop defense lawyers from dragging trials out for years – they should be kept in control by the judges, like Judge Jackie Glass did with the Simpson armed robbery & kidnapping trial in Vegas.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Cali for the coverage. It is outrageous that it has taken this long to get to trial. I am beyond disgusted at the stuff the defense is allowed to get away with. I am still angry about the Graig not guilty verdict. Juries really losing touch with reality.
I will stop by the website and offer my support. Hey, call your paper and complain and stop your subscription.

PFF Raio Trade Alert said...

Once again I'm forced to say that my loathing for criminal defense attorney's only continues to deepen. I think the system is broken. When O.J. can get away with double murder, when Spector can get away with murder, you know someone (or in their case, many ones) were making huge amounts of money sufficient to warp their morals and ethics. Why do we continue to permit this travesty? People will say "It's prosecution v. defense, it's a fair shot", but prosecutors deal in fact and ethics, whereas defense lawyers deal in dollars and lies. And now this latest example of a defense lawyer who twists and manipulates and adds insult to a death. Makes me sick...

Anonymous said...

Is the 15-year old Sprocket a different one from your cat, Sprocket, who passed away several years ago?

Thank you for your diligence in reporting on both of the PS trials.