A Philadelphia judge on Friday denied an emergency motion to vacate the guilty verdict of Griffin Campbell - the demolition contractor in the deadly 2013 Center City building collapse - for what Campbell's lawyer argued was "selective racial prosecution."
Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson rejected defense lawyer William D. Hobson's motion on procedural grounds: Court rules require that such a motion be made before trial, not after the verdict.
Bronson said he would permit Hobson to try to prove his allegation at a hearing after the 51-year-old North Philadelphia contractor is sentenced Jan. 8.
Hobson filed his "motion for extraordinary relief" Thursday, contending that the county grand jury investigation that led to charges against Campbell and excavator operator Sean Benschop was supervised by Assistant District Attorney Frank Fina.
Fina is the former state prosecutor accused by state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane of using government computers to swap pornography and racial and ethnic jokes among a group that included state prosecutors, and other officials, including two state Supreme Court justices.
That some of the emails involved crude racial humor gave Hobson new ammunition in his long-standing contention that racial bias tainted the probe into the June 5, 2013, collapse that killed six and injured 13.
Hobson argued Friday that it was impossible for him to raise the racial prosecution issue before trial because events in the Fina controversy "are coming out even as we speak."
Bronson, however, said court rules were clear. He also said the rules barred him from postponing Campbell's sentencing as Hobson requested.
Bronson said he did not see evidence of racially motivated prosecution because Campbell was not "equally situated" with others investigated in the deadly collapse - was not involved in the same type of alleged criminal conduct.
"No one was equally situated in this case," argued Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron, who prosecuted Campbell with Jennifer Selber.
Cameron also argued that Hobson's motion should be rejected because Fina, who joined the District Attorney's Office after leaving the Attorney General's Office, did not have the final say about who was criminally charged in the collapse.
"The decision was not made by Frank Fina," Cameron said. "The decision was made after a lot of consulting in the District Attorney's Office by the district attorney."
Throughout Campbell's trial, Hobson tried to portray his client as a working-class black man from North Philadelphia who had been made a scapegoat by the white establishment.
After a two-year grand jury probe, the only two people criminally charged were Campbell and Benschop, the operator of the excavator that sent an unsupported three-story brick wall atop the single-story Salvation Army thrift store. Both are African American.
Benschop, 44, whom Campbell hired, pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 of reckless endangerment, and one of aggravated assault.
The architect overseeing the demolition, Plato A. Marinakos Jr., 49, who is white, was granted immunity from prosecution. He testified before the grand jury and at the trial where Campbell was found guilty of six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment, a count of aggravated assault and causing a catastrophe.
Other principals, such as multimillionaire property developer Richard Basciano and his top aides - all white - were allowed to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before the grand jury.