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Bluffdale man guilty of attempted murder in neighborhood watch shooting

Published: Thursday, July 29 2010 12:21 a.m. MDT

Reginald George Campos speaks with his legal counsel Wednesday, July 28, the final day of the criminal trial at the West Jordan Courthouse of Campos, who was charged with attempted murder with injury, a first-degree felony, in the July 22, 2009, shooting of David Serbeck.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — As Paige Campos watched a court bailiff shackle the wrists of her father, there wasn't time to say anything. But she made sure the love she has for him showed.

"Not words, just eye contact," she said. "I tried to express all the love I have for him. He's the greatest father a girl could ask for."

Her father, Reginald George Campos, 44, was found guilty of attempted murder, a first-degree felony, and two counts of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, by a five-man, three-woman jury Wednesday. The verdict came after just three hours of deliberation following a three-day trial.

Campos was immediately taken into custody and will be sentenced Sept. 2. He faces a potential sentence of three years to life in prison.

"We're very sorry for the Campos family and their loss, but we're glad the truth finally did come out," victim David Serbeck said following the verdict.

Reginald Campos' nephew, Jim, said the family was "shocked" when they heard the verdict and were "really disappointed" that they found his uncle guilty on all counts.

"It's not a slam on the jurors," he said. "It's a difficult job, but we don't agree. As a family, we are here to support Reggie."

He spoke of the size and the strength of the family and said they will look after Reginald Campos' wife and four children and continue to show love and support to him. He said the violent, irrational man described in court does not represent his uncle as he knows him.

"I know my uncle, I know how he works and this is totally out of character for him," Jim Campos said. "I don't believe it. But there are two victims in this case. Our family and Mr. Serbeck's family."

Serbeck was also sensitive to the Campos family's loss, advising his friends to restrain themselves regardless of the verdict before the jury came into the courtroom.

"He has a family as well," he said. "My heart goes out to his family. This is something they have to live with. … On both sides, we're effected either way. It's very difficult to be a middle-aged man and have everything taken away from you."

Emotions were high during the final day of trial Wednesday. Attorneys on both sides of the case worked to sway the jury during closing arguments. Either Campos was enraged and irrational when he confronted Serbeck in their Bluffdale neighborhood, or Campos believed that he and his teenage daughter were in danger and he needed to protect them.

Prosecutor Nathan Evershed depicted Campos as a "man on a hunt, pursuing and later finding his prey." But the prosecutor said this case is as much about Serbeck as it is about Campos.

"This case is about a man, a father, a husband, a good neighbor who simply went out on a neighborhood watch," Evershed said. "But this case is also about society — civilized society — and about a man who took the law into his own hands."

Campos was charged following a July 22 shooting in which a confrontation between the two men led to Campos firing two shots, one which severed Serbeck's spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Evershed reminded jurors that they are to base their verdict on what an average, rational and reasonable person would do under the circumstances. Defense attorney Rebecca Skordas argued that Campos acted as any rational father would when operating under the belief that his daughter is in danger.

"We put a lot of expectations on fathers," she said. "We expect them to provide; we expect them to protect. When something goes bump in the night, you send your husband to look into it. An average man has the instinct to protect his young."

Campos' daughter ran sobbing from the courtroom as Skordas spoke, and Campos quietly sat in his chair and cried as Skordas described the fragility of teenage girls and the special need to protect them that a father feels.

Campos confronted Serbeck after Serbeck had been driving around the neighborhood to investigate a string of burglaries. Serbeck had slowed his vehicle and talked briefly to Campos' then-16-year-old daughter earlier and, when he went on a second patrol later, unknowingly tailed the girl and her teenage friends believing their vehicle was one of the vehicles in the area thefts.

The girls became "hysterical" and called Campos, who met up with the young women and followed them home before getting his gun and his daughter to go on a search for the vehicle that had been following them.

When his daughter identified Serbeck's vehicle, Campos made a U-turn, pulled in front of it and braked, prompting Serbeck to stop. Serbeck testified that Campos exited the car yelling, with his gun raised. Serbeck said he tried to talk to Campos and neutralize the situation by telling him he had a gun but was going to put it on the ground. Serbeck said he knelt to place it on the ground and kicked it away from his body, but Campos opened fire.

In a phone call to 911 and in later interviews with police, Campos said Serbeck raised and racked his gun, prompting him to fire and state that he had shot in self-defense.

Paige Campos said she "100 percent" believes her father shot out of self-defense and praised both her father and the team that represented him.

"I thought our lawyers did really well and made a strong case," she said. "I love him. He's just the greatest father a girl can ask for. He's just the best father. He's a wonderful man. You can tell how much we love and adore him."

She said her family held a meeting while the jury deliberated and they discussed the trial proceedings. She said their family has a strong support system and "will get through this."

"We have a higher power watching over us and trials make us better," she said.

Different theories about the incident and who was the aggressor played out in closing arguments. Skordas questioned how blood made it onto the handle of Serbeck's gun if he hadn't been holding it when he was shot and how the safety could be engaged on his gun if he had racked it, as her client believed. She said he must have been holding the gun and that the safety was activated when Peterson kicked the gun at Campos' command.

Evershed called the arguments "red herrings" meant to confuse and distract the jury from the facts of the case. He in turn told the jury that if Serbeck was holding the gun, the blood couldn't have ended up on the handle and that it wasn't reasonable to believe that Serbeck, who was in "survival mode," would use his "dying wish" that police check the gun on the faith that Peterson had engaged the safety with the kick.

Before closing arguments, the jury heard testimony from Dr. Todd Grey, the state's chief medical examiner, who testified that the bullet entered Serbeck's chest on the upper right side and exited his torso on the lower left side and traveled in a downward direction, indicating that he'd either been shot while crouching down or from above.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

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