Self-Defense on Trial: The Joe Campbell Decision Part II

Nobody would get what they wanted out of this homicide trial—not the jury, not the defendant Joe Campbell, not Tim … Continued

Nobody would get what they wanted out of this homicide trial—not the jury, not the defendant Joe Campbell, not Tim Newman’s widow, neither prosecution nor defense.

(Click here to read Part 1 of Self-Defense on Trial.)

Neither the state nor the defense proved its case. What most likely occurred on that October morning did not support, beyond a reasonable doubt, either the deliberate homicide charge demanded by the state or the innocence demanded by the defense. We would end up hopelessly deadlocked, and Campbell would go free—only to plead guilty later to negligent homicide. We in the jury were not offered that option. For us, the only charge available was deliberate homicide or nothing.

What most likely occurred on that October morning did not support, beyond a reasonable doubt, the deliberate homicide charge demanded by the state, or the innocence demanded by the defense.

I am still an avid and committed believer in being armed. However, I will offer my fellow armed citizens what I learned over the course of that month in that trial, in hopes that it might save them some trouble someday.

First, do not, as Joe Campbell did, call up your County Attorneys’ office and tell them that your antagonist “is going to wind up in a body bag.” Do not call local law enforcement and tell them that you are going to “put him down.”

Think hard about this. Have you ever said, “Yeah, and I wish that sumbitch would come over here and try some of that monkey business with me”? How about: “Well, if they break in here, they’ll get the full Smith & Wesson treatment”? Ever buy one of those signs, “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be prosecuted”? How about: “Nothing in Here is Worth Your Life”?

Now imagine yourself in the courtroom, on trial for a shooting. Do you want to explain why you claimed to your brother-in-law a couple years back that “I’d shoot that sucker soon as look at him,” after you have—justifiably or not—done just that? Do want to explain why you have a sign on your lawn declaring your willingness to shoot somebody? It’s not going to go well for you.

The three best techniques for lighting your own way in a self-defense situation.

Shooting With a Flashlight

Firearms and self-defense expert and author Massad Ayoob was aware of the Campbell homicide case and the history between Campbell and Newman. “Trash talk, threats, all of that, that is also called Mens Rea, which is Latin for the ‘guilty mind,’” Ayoob told me. “It’s not complicated. What you have done, if something happens, is you’ve established intent.”

Second, if you are involved in a hot dispute over access across private land or anything else, do not do as Tim Newman did, and arm yourself believing that because your opponent is armed, you must be armed, too. You are setting yourself up for a gunfight at best, one that the law will almost certainly determine was avoidable. At worst, you are providing your opponent with exactly what they may be wanting: an excuse to kill you, and take his or her chances in court.

Let’s face this fact: an armed citizen gives up the privilege of engaging in neighborhood feuds, shouting matches at the boat launch, and shoving contests at the kids’ soccer games. Road rage is out. When our forebears said that “an armed society is a polite society,” they weren’t talking about people being afraid to be rude because of the threat that they would be killed. Far from it. They knew that armed men and women, if they want to remain free and armed, exercise extreme self-control and simply do not engage in conflicts that could force them to use their weapons and then be subject to judgement by the courts, thereby costing them all of their money and, perhaps, their freedom or their lives.

“Avoidance is Victory”

It has been forever and often said of Colonel Colt that his invention of the first mechanically sound revolver finally made men equal. It is not often said that his invention made them keep the peace through self-discipline, but it should be. As Ayoob puts it: “When I was a young man I can think of so many times I wanted to punch some loudmouth in the face, but it never happened. The first rule: avoidance is victory. Anti-gun people think that the trigger pulls the finger—that is, if you have a gun you’ll find a reason to use it, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.”

Joe Campbell, according to witnesses, did not often try to “keep the peace.” Instead, he confronted people crossing his property with a shotgun, and made threatening remarks to them, long before the day of the shooting of Tim Newman. It did not really matter, later, whether the easements for the old trails gave people the right to cross Campbell’s property, as many residents of the subdivision claimed. It did not matter whether Tim Newman was successfully establishing his own prescriptive easement to cross Campbell’s property through “adverse possession” of the trails, as he had been advised to do by a lawyer. In the end, a conflict over a locked gate that should have been settled over a cup of coffee or in a law office ended with Newman dead and Campbell, as part of his sentencing, being prohibited from ever venturing within ten miles of Newman’s cabin (now occupied by Newman’s widow), meaning he had to give up the property that he’d so doggedly (and with unnecessary force) defended. Campbell’s insurance also paid Newman’s widow $1 million.

Joe Campbell was constantly and openly armed and had been for years, according to witnesses. Tim Newman was armed (small-of-the-back holster) when he went to challenge that locked gate with a pair of bolt cutters and an aggressive attitude. Both men acted with immaturity and out of anger. Both men lost all they had sought to gain.

The retired Army sergeant fired his gun when the intruder came at him in his house.

Orlando Vet Shoots, Wounds Home Invader

Being armed changes everything. It transforms us from an average citizen who might enjoy having a few beers after work and flipping the bird at the guy who cuts us off in traffic, to a kind of stone-cold sober American Samurai, always on the watch, well-versed in the OODA loop, well-trained with our weapon, and practicing “situational awareness” to make sure we aren’t going to have to use that weapon unless there is dire and irrefutable need.

Ayoob told me that there was a contradiction involved in being armed in a modern society like ours. “You carry a gun so that you won’t be a victim. But you have to be the victim. A scenario: The perpetrator is lying in a pool of blood. You are standing there with your gun. You are now looking remarkably like a perpetrator. We don’t have a category for heroic armed citizens. We have victims and perpetrators. If you successfully defend yourself, you still have to make sure you that you are the victim.”

When we are armed, he notes, we don’t have the same choices that an unarmed citizen has. “People ask me if they should carry their guns in bad neighborhoods or wherever. Well, if you think you are going to need a gun there, you shouldn’t be going there anyway. You’ve got a dangerous bar, full of drunken a-holes. Ask yourself: why do I want to be there in the first place?”

Being on that jury, and following the Stiffler trial and others like it, has made me realize the responsibility of being armed in a way I never have before. The responsibility is huge, larger than I had imagined, and the penalties for being wrong are extremely high.

Finally, I want to say that my father was right. The American jury system—as ham-handed, blunt and imprecise as it can seem—is one of the best efforts at achieving justice in the long and patchwork history of human beings who seek to govern themselves and gain relief from what the 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “the war of all against all.” Left-leaning Americans constantly attack our natural rights to self-defense as defined by law in the Castle Doctrine, and the Stand your Ground Law, without ever acknowledging that those concepts are crucial to protecting human freedom and dignity and safety. The American jury system is the best vehicle for determining whether a defendant acted within the confines of those laws, and our case with Joe Campbell, to me, was a prime example. Our jury hung, because the charge of deliberate homicide—a very specific act of ruthless violence—did not irrefutably fit any of the scenarios we were presented. What happened was that one man took another’s life in an exchange of angers and passions that could easily have been avoided.

After our jury was hopelessly hung, the state, eager to avoid another costly trial, came back with an offer of negligent homicide. That charge did indeed fit any number of the scenarios presented at the trial. In our failure to reach a judgment, we succeeded.