January 16th, 2006 - Day 6: Judicial Passion Play

By James Zambroski

January 16th - Day 6
Judicial Passion Play

Opening statements in a murder trial are like a judicial passion play: dripping with drama, produced with props and polished performances by two antagonists working an audience of 12 men and women.

While nothing the lawyers say is considered evidence, there's no question openings are crafted to sway the panel as much as any smoking gun, the scripts from each side honed as an emotional road map both sides hope will entice the jury to either to either sympathy and righteous indignation on the side of the defense, or, from the prosecution, a sense of duty toward victims not here to seek justice.

And so it was, a melodrama about life and death in a small town far away from the scene of the crime, the opening act of State of Indiana versus David R. Camm.

"I'd like to introduce you to Bradley Camm, a good looking boy from Southern Indiana," began Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson, dark eyed, carefully coifed, Italian looking, even though his name doesn't end in 'O'.

As he spoke, a four foot, color picture of the boy, murdered in a Georgetown garage along side his mother and sister more than five years ago, flashed on a screen in front of the jury.

Henderson went on to describe Brad's last day on earth, September 28, 2000, in measured, quiet tones, careful not to overplay it, to let the brutality of the facts direct the show.

Bradley's grandmother, Janice Renn, sitting in the front row of the courtroom just a few feet away, had picked him up after school, taken him for his allergy shot, then to her house for TV and a snack until Brad's mother, Kim, came to take him to his swimming practice.

As they pulled out of the driveway in Kim's Bronco, Brad was in the back seat, next to his sister, Jill.

"Brad gave grandma the peace sign....This would be the last time Janice Renn would get to see her grandchildren," Henderson said.

That's because in just a couple of hours, Kim, Jill and Bradley Camm would be shot to death shortly after pulling into the garage in Georgetown.

The jury took it all in while Janice quietly wept, sitting next to her husband, Frank, on one side and her surviving daughter, Debbie, on the other.

And on the other side of the room, sitting in the front row behind the defendant, David Ray Camm, members of his family wept as well. They, too, lost much that day when the family was slaughtered.

Henderson continued his story, speaking as though he'd been told by the boy, somehow from the grave.

As the family pulled into the left side of the garage, "(Bradley) noticed something was different. Not only was his dad there, he saw a black man he didn't recognize," Henderson said.

He described Brad's last moments, of seeing his mother get out of the Bronco, of an argument, and then a "pop" and of seeing his mom fall to the ground. Terrified, Henderson said, Bradley heard another "pop" and then saw his sister, sitting next to him, slump over, covered in blood. Both died of a single shot to the head, the prosecutor said in stoic, almost respectful tones, The Narrator of a tragedy rivaling anything Shakespearean.

Bradley Camm, the last to die, was shot through the shoulder and chest; he tried to escape and wound up wedged between the driver's seat and front door. A prison informant, Henderson said, will testify that David Camm heard his son call "Daddy, daddy" and that he was haunted by those words.

The rest of the opening statement was taken up in the physical evidence and the blow by blow accounting of the defendant's behavior in the hours and days immediately following the murders. It ended with Bradley Camm's fading picture. "For Bradley, everything was so dark;" the whole performance taking 33 minutes of the allotted hour-and-a-half.

Now, Scene Two of Act One, The Defense of the Wrongly Accused.

Katherine "Kitty" Liell is one of those people passionate just by their presence. She's not the stereotypic Philadelphia lawyer, she's not even a high priced Louisville legal eagle, in fact, by all appearances, she could be a glasses-wearing soccer mom who thinks wasting time once a week at the salon is silly.

She comes by her advocacy of the accused naturally; her dad was a founding father of the Indiana ACLU; she exudes competence without being smarmy, someone who doesn't care about Lasik or who wants to deal with the hassle of contact lenses. She's in charge without being threatening; she doesn't come across as having something to prove. Camm is lucky.

She gets right to her take on the facts: her client has an airtight alibi and police botched this thing from the get go. Even though she's not required to prove it, she has a ready made alternate theory of the crime, a convicted felon by the name of Charles Boney.

She talks about 11 witnesses who will testify that they played basketball (actually 10 players and one spectator) with David Camm at a church gymnasium about 2 miles from his home while his loved ones were being gunned down. And she says they are rock solid in their recollections.

"The events, what happened that night, these players and that spectator, recall with clarity," she says, as individual pictures of the 11 alibi witnesses flash on the same screen that formerly showed Bradley Camm. "These people recall with absolute clarity; these are the 'no doubts.'"

And she wastes no time in pointing a well prepared finger at Boney.

"While Dave Camm was playing basketball, Kim, Jill and Brad were ambushed, violated and murdered by Charles Boney," she says, as Boney's picture goes up on the screen.

"He lay in wait, in the darkness. He ambushed a defenseless mother and children while their father was playing basketball," Liell, dressed in a pale yellow suit adorned with a simple broach, tells the jury.

She paints Boney as a sinister psychopath who went home after murdering the Camm family and took a shower.

"Boney showered the blood out of his hair, off his skin and out of his mind," Liell said.

With his mother and girlfriend asleep in the next room, Boney phoned a woman in Indianapolis and had a sexually explicit conversation, Liell told the jury, her voice incredulous and tinged with anger.

"While Boney was chatting up his friends, Dave Camm was living the worst nightmare imaginable," she said, as another picture of Boney flashed in front of the jury.

Anticipating that the state will tell the story of Camm yelling at investigators, Liell pre-empts that testimony with her own version.

Camm told Indiana State Police Detective Sean Clemmons not to screw it up, Liell said.

"(He) screamed at him "DO IT RIGHT," Liell's voice suddenly booming off the walls of the Warrick County Superior courtroom.

She explained away blood on Camm's shirt, considered to be crucial evidence in the case, as a father's desperate attempts to save his child.

"He grabbed his son, Bradley, he clutched him to his chest and he laid Bradley on the floor," Liell said, motioning with her hands toward her own chest in a maternal like grasp.

Like Henderson before her, she went through the facts that will come before this jury of David Camm's peers, one by one, taking shots at expert witnesses who will try to persuade them.

"You don't need paid persuaders to figure this out. All you need is common sense," she said.

The end of Act One in a play with the ending a long way from being written.

P.S. Since I'm out of the office for the next several weeks, I can't access my WAVE 3 email account. If you wanna reach me while I'm in Boonville, send email to: zamman1953@yahoo.com. Later.