GRIFFIN CAMPBELL, the burly North Philadelphia demolition contractor on trial for six counts of third-degree murder, is a "monster" who caused the victims' deaths in a 2013 Center City building collapse by putting money over safety, a city prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments yesterday.
At times impassioned and animated, Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron quoted late comedian Flip Wilson to mock Campbell's defense that he was just following orders from the doomed project's conniving Ivy League-educated architect.
"The devil made me do it! That's the defense in this case. Plato Marinakos made me do it," Cameron said, referencing the architect. "That's not a defense in this case."
Cameron told the seven women and five men on the Common Pleas jury that Campbell alone was responsible for ordering his workers to use illegal tactics to demolish a building on Market Street near 22nd that resulted in an unsupported wall toppling onto a Salvation Army thrift store next door.
Six people inside the one-story store died that June 5 day and 13 others were trapped and badly injured, including Mariya Plekan, 54, whose legs had to be amputated.
Campbell, 51, gave those orders, Cameron said, to finish the job sooner so he could get paid.
He knew better, and had been warned by some of his workers that removing joists and floors was dangerous and that the building should have been taken down by hand starting from the top, Cameron told the jurors.
"Because this man wouldn't spend a dollar, these six people are dead and Mariya Plekan is injured for life."
Campbell, who is being held without bail, is charged with six counts of third-degree murder and related counts. If convicted, he would receive a life sentence without parole in state prison.
Defense attorney William Hobson portrayed Campbell as a hardworking North Philly family man who is being scapegoated by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
He drove the point that the office gave Marinakos immunity and allowed excavator operator and co-defendant Sean Benschop, 45, to plead guilty to manslaughter charges, despite the latter having marijuana in his system the day of the collapse. Both testified against Campbell.
What happened at 22nd and Market streets "shook the city," Hobson said, but it was not murder because Campbell had no malice and never intended to harm or kill anyone. The collapse was an accident brought about by Marinakos, who called the shots and hired Campbell, Hobson said.
"At no time did Griffin Campbell act with spite, malice or hate to kill anyone in that store, nor did he act with reckless indifference," Hobson said, citing the legal definitions of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Campbell had no way of knowing that Benschop was a habitual marijuana smoker who was impaired while operating the excavator that struck the wall that then fell onto the thrift store, Hobson said.
"Sean Benschop, from the moment that wall collapsed, was guilty," the attorney said. "He was stoned when he arrived at that job site . . . and he was stoned when he killed those people. They can dress him up all they want."
He asked the jury not to go along with the prosecution in making Campbell the fall guy. He asked them to send him home to his wife and children, cleared of all charges.
"Enough tragedy has taken place," Hobson said. "Please, please do not bury Griffin Campbell under a wall of injustice. Do not make Griffin Campbell the seventh victim of the Market Street collapse."
Prosecutor Cameron asserted that Benschop's marijuana use had nothing to do with the collapse because the wall fell because it had been weakened when the building's interior supports were taken out.
"He said don't make the defendant the seventh victim. Baloney. He was in control of that site," said Cameron, who read a trail of emails that appeared to show that Campbell was the site boss, not Marinakos.
The jury will begin deliberating Monday morning.
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