By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Campbell is a busy person. Her phone rings all day long, and her Christmas-card list runs to 900 names. As a former mayor of San Juan Capistrano (and confidant of everyone), she regularly serves on state and federal commissions or testifies before Congress. She’s been honored for her advocacy on behalf of victims by former president George Bush, former governor Pete Wilson, federal and state attorneys general, and the California Legislature. She was part of the successful campaign to defeat former California Supreme Court justice Rose Bird, an advocate for former attorney general John Ashcroft at his Senate confirmation hearing and a driving force behind Proposition 115, the 1990 court-reform initiative that dramatically reduced the time between arrest and trial in the state. The walls of her utilitarian paper-strewn downstairs office are decorated with dozens of photos, plaques and awards from police, sheriffs and district-attorney associations. She knows so many prominent people, says Elena Saris, that “there are times we can’t meet with the judge to argue a motion, because she is meeting with George W. Bush.”
Campbell has been fighting for victims’ rights ever since the ’80s, when two men killed her 27-year-old son, Scott, for a pound of cocaine. Scott was apparently trying to sell the cocaine to a buyer in North Dakota. Since he couldn’t risk carrying drugs on a commercial airliner, he accepted an offer from a childhood friend, Larry Cowell, to fly him to the Midwest in a single-engine plane. Instead, Cowell flew him out over the Pacific west of Catalina Island, where an accomplice in the back seat, Donald DiMascio, broke Scott’s neck and threw him into the ocean from a height of 2,000 feet.
Collene Campbell normally talked to ?her son several times a day, so when she didn’t hear from him she knew immediately that he was dead. But when she and her husband, Gary, went to the police, they dismissed her fears, suggesting instead that Scott was just “shacked up somewhere with somebody’s wife.”
At this point, the Campbells launched their own investigation, renting off-road motorcycles to search remote mountain canyons, wading through fetid swamps, crawling into caves to look for his body. When Scott’s girlfriend told them he had talked about taking an airplane trip, they searched the parking lots of one airfield after another until, after two weeks, they found his car at the Fullerton airport. From airport logs they determined that Larry Cowell had rented a plane there, and when they looked inside, they found Scott’s blood on a curtain.
The Anaheim police then arranged to have investigators pretend to be bigtime drug dealers to whom Scott supposedly owed big money. Thinking that they were dealing with the Mob, Cowell and DiMascio separately confessed to killing Scott. DiMascio was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, and Cowell got 25 years to life.
Despite their convictions, Campbell was far from pleased. Cowell had to be tried a second time because his confession had been obtained under duress. Murder to final sentencing took seven and a half stressful years, a time during which Collene came down with ulcers and Gary developed high blood pressure. Collene felt so badly treated by the justice system, she decided to spend the rest of her life fighting to reform it. “Because we were only the mom and dad, we had no rights,” Campbell later said. “We were forced to sit outside the courtroom on a bench in the hall, like dogs with fleas . . . while the defendants’ families were allowed to be inside and follow the trial and give support to the killers.”
She and Gary subsequently lobbied hard — but unsuccessfully — for a constitutional amendment to give crime victims (and their families) some of the same rights given to defendants. President Bush later signed a new federal law, named in part after Scott Campbell, that gives victims or their surviving family members the right to testify at the sentencing phase of federal trials. (The law does not apply in Goodwin’s state trial.)
When I first interviewed Campbell for the L.A. Times a few months after Mickey and Trudy’s deaths, she was angry about any suggestion the killers might somehow get away with their crimes. “I’ll tell you,” she said at the time, “they got one more Thompson to take out if they think they’re going to walk.”
Now, 18 years later, I realize, she is just as determined as she ever was to put Goodwin away. And it’s not just because she still feels that Goodwin had her brother and sister-in-law killed. It’s what Campbell regards as the cruel and baseless assault Goodwin has made on her and her brother’s honesty and integrity, not only in court but also on JusticeOnTrial.org, a Web site maintained by Goodwin’s friend John Bradley.
“The Bradley site just upsets me,” she says when I begin to ask her about it. “I called the attorney general’s office and asked how I could make them be more responsible. He said, ‘You can’t. There’s nothing you can do.’ So there is no sense to me reading them because they only make me mad.’?”