By James Zambroski
February 14th, 2006 - Day 27:
Fate and the chore of a loving son cast Nelson Lockhart right to the center of the Camm family murders.
It was Nelson's turn on September 28, 2000, to spend the night with his 92-year old father, Amos, the patriarch of the Lockhart clan. Amos required 24-hour care; Nelson and his eight brothers and sisters were particularly devoted to their dad. It enabled him to live out his days on the family farm, now divided into homesteads, including one for Nelson's nephew, David Camm, his wife Kimberly, and their two children, Brad and Jill, directly across the street.
The homegrown care was precisely disciplined. A log book at the door noted who was there when, what happened during their stay and anything the next adult child needed to know. The book also served as a written message center between siblings, who sometimes posted jokes or other news.
The ritual was not without flexibility. Nelson's brother Leland, for example, lived in Indianapolis. He would sometimes stay for two or three days at a time, often on short notice. On this particular Thursday, he called Nelson and said he'd be able to do so at the first of the following week, if that was all right.
Nelson then phoned his brother Sam to tell him of the switch (Sam's night was Monday). When Nelson got Sam Lockhart's answering machine, he returned to watch television with his father. The evening news, then The Andy Griffith Show. The set was turned up almost full blast to accommodate the elder Lockhart's hearing deficit.
Around 9:30, Sam returned the call and it was while the two brothers were speaking that their lives changed forever.
On the stand as the first main defense witness, Nelson Lockhart told the jury he suddenly heard someone ferociously pounding at the door.
"I heard Dave's voice, screaming, yelling 'Nelson! Nelson! Someone killed my family; they're all dead," he told the jury.
He repeated the awful message to his brother, telling him to come at once, then hung up.
As Nelson Lockhart told this story, his eyes welled up, he leaned forward, resting his forehead on entwined fingers, his elbows propped on the witness stand.
Sam Lockhart, sitting in the front row, behind his nephew in the dock, likewise bent in his chair and began to cry. Many other family members, including Nelson's two grown daughters, sitting next to their Uncle Sam, wept with their dad. Others gently rubbed consolation on relatives and friends nearby. Two female jurors dabbed their eyes as well.
Irrespective of what the cynical among us (yours truly included, occasionally) might think of David Camm's seeming tearfulness at moments like this, there is no question that his extended family has suffered through this trial from time to time.
No matter whether David Ray Camm is found guilty or not, the Lockharts, the Camms, the Renns (Kimberly's side of the family) have suffered a titanic loss with the murders of their loved ones, and it shows.
Nelson, in barefeet, raced out of the house and followed his nephew the sixty or so yards to the garage. He said he heard Camm wish that he hadn't gone to play basketball that night. He testified he saw Camm kneeling beside his son, Bradley, who was sprawled on the concrete floor. Lockhart told the jury Camm was attempting CPR on his child.
"He was yelling 'Bradley, breathe! Bradley, breathe!" Lockhart testified.
With Kimberly lying next to her eldest child, obviously deceased, judging from her massive loss of blood, Lockhart testified that Camm asked him to check on Jill.
He told the jury he went around to the driver's side of the Bronco, parked in the left bay of the darkened garage.
"I saw a shadow of this little girl," he testified.
"I reached back and touched her little arm or hand and called her...Jill...Jill," he said.
But the coolness of her skin said all there was to be said.
"I said, 'Dave, I think they're all gone. I think they're all dead,'" Lockhart said on the stand.
Lockhart said his training as a police officer -- 12 years as a Kentucky State Trooper and 22 years as a Jefferson County officer -- kicked in.
He kept his nephew, by now outside, from re-entering the garage.
"This is a crime scene, buddy," he said he told Camm. "We have to stay out of there."
He noted that a bullet had hit the Bronco's windshield.
As police began pouring into the family compound, Sam Lockhart and his son, Philip, arrived.
"Where's Kim, where's Kim?" he yelled at Nelson.
Lockhart testified that he had to forcibly keep Sam from entering the garage. He said that David Camm was screaming and pounding his fists into the tailgate of his pick up truck, parked on the driveway outside.
He spoke of the a bitter conflict roiling from within -- a veteran police officer who had discovered his family shot to death.
"You can't lay aside all your training, on the other hand..." he said.
"Here I am a police officer and I'm right next door and my family is killed. Why couldn't I have done something?" he said on the stand.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson's cross-examination was relatively brief. He got Lockhart to admit that he had no idea of what Camm was doing prior to knocking on Amos Lockhart's door, nor how long he'd been home.
Later, Henderson said he wasn't buying Lockhart's assertion of conflict.
"To think that you could put on your police hat and your family hat and separate those two, I don't think is possible and I don't think that happened here," Henderson said outside the courtroom.
The reason for the gentle cross-examination? Perhaps such confidence in his case that anything more rigorous wasn't necessary.
"It's important for the defendant to have his family testify. It's all he's got," Henderson told reporters.
"I don't think there was anything in direct on Mr. Lockhart's testimony that is really relevant to the case," he said.