Husband's mistake, prison sentence happened for a reason, wife says
Alan Neeves, Deseret News
ST. GEORGE — Reggie and Kathy Campos met while on track scholarships at Southern Utah University, married young and quickly welcomed two girls into their family.
They worked several jobs while they finished school, moved several times, welcomed two more children more than 12 years later.
"It was really really crazy," Kathy Campos said. "We had a good marriage, but it was hard, also, and then we got to this point where it started paying off. He was a CPA and I was a social worker and we were living the American dream. We were getting the things we desired.
The last four years before her husband was sent to prison, she said, "was our happiest time ever."
She now believes, in some strange way, that her husband was "destined" to shoot and paralyze a man in their Bluffdale neighborhood, despite the heartache and struggles it has subsequently brought to her and their children. She sees a greater plan in the shooting and the events that led to it — and also thinks that it was all somehow necessary in order to land the man her husband shot behind bars.
The shooting that changed everything occurred July 22, 2009, just 100 meters from the front door of their dream home in Bluffdale. That's where Reggie Campos shot and paralyzed David Serbeck.
"Our world just crashed," she said. "Everything changed."
From that day on, Kathy Campos has stood behind her husband "100 percent." She firmly believes he shot Serbeck in self-defense, as he claimed since placing a 911 call just after the shooting. She believed him even when a jury did not, finding him guilty of attempted murder.
She conceded she would have stood by him no matter what his explanation was. She is firm in her belief that he was calm that night and was trying to protect their daughter.
"He's never lied to me," she explained. "Even if he said, 'I lost it and I shot him,' I would have supported him then."
Today, Campos is in prison in Gunnison serving a three-years-to-life sentence. Serbeck is at the prison in Draper for an unrelated crime of having sex with a teenage neighbor — although Kathy Campos doesn't believe the events are unrelated.
The girl whom Serbeck would later be convicted of sexually abusing said she came forward to report the abuse only after seeing news reports that Serbeck had been following teenage girls on the night of the shooting. She went to authorities during Campos' trial and filed a civil lawsuit against Serbeck in an effort to help Campos' case.
On that summer night in 2009, Reggie Campos and David Serbeck were both on the streets of Bluffdale. Serbeck said he was conducting an unofficial neighborhood patrol, prompted by a recent rash of burglaries. He and his neighbor, Troy Peterson, encountered Campos' then-16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, and her friends.
The girl testified that Serbeck asked them what they were up to. Soon after, she noticed the same men following her and several of her friends while she was driving them home.
One of those friends said during Campos' 2010 trial that the girls were "freaking out" when the SUV aggressively followed them. Stephanie called her father, who met up with the young women at the Campos' home and followed them all to their homes. He then grabbed his gun and his daughter to went back out to 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 Campos' version of the story, he told a 911 dispatcher: "He (Serbeck) pulled a gun on me and cocked it. ... He got out of his car, pulled a gun on me, cocked it, and I let him have it."
"It was like you just can't believe it happened," Kathy Campos said. "It's like one minute your life is great and everything is going well, and in a split second decision your whole world is crashing around you. I can't explain it, it's just devastation."
She, and those in her husband's camp, still believe it was self-defense and say Serbeck's narrative about putting the gun on the ground and talking with Campos is a story that doesn't add up.
Prosecutors, however, described Campos as an enraged "man on a hunt, pursuing and later finding his prey" — a vigilante who took the law into his own hands.
"The only thing he did wrong was he confronted the people," Kathy Campos said of her husband. "He could have made a different decision, he knows that, we all know that. If he would have, this would have never happened, but he did. But the thing is, I've had a lot of dads and even wives say, 'My husband would have done the same thing.' 'I would have done the same thing in the situation.'"
Reggie Campos went to jail for seven days and was released on bail. In the near-year between the shooting and his trial, there was stress and anxiety, regret, but also a good amount of hope.
"We had the preliminary hearing and we could see that Troy Peterson's story and Serbeck's story were different and we were really hopeful," Kathy Campos said. "It seemed like things were coming together. Then girls came forward (with allegations of sex abuse against Serbeck) and I thought once they charged (Serbeck), things would change."
But Serbeck was not charged with unlawful sexual activity with a 16- or 17-year-old until 2012. The Campos family said they were confused and frustrated by the lies they believe Serbeck told at trial and the lack of information allowed into the trial about Serbeck and the sex abuse accusations against him.
"We were still hopeful" up until the day of the verdict, Kathy Campos said. "I just thought it would all work itself out."
But jurors declared Campos guilty. Even 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris called the self-defense claim "pure crap" and sentenced him to prison. Campos did not apologize during the sentencing, but reiterated that he had acted in self-defense.
Campos' family said he struggled with how to reconcile his remorse with his belief that he had just defended himself.
"I know that he never wanted to shoot anybody," Kathy Campos said. "He's not happy that Serbeck is in a wheelchair. He doesn't think he deserves that. But what's he supposed to say? He thinks it's self-defense."
The trial left the family in debt and without a breadwinner. Their "dream home" was just one of many things they sold to make ends meet. They relocated into a family home in southern Utah and Kathy Campos counts that move as the second most difficult part of the last few years since the trial.
"We didn't make really anything off of the home," she said. "We didn't make a profit, but it helped me these last couple years a little bit. It helped me to raise my family, because it's been difficult for me to find a job. I've struggled, especially down here. The economy down here is not as good as in Salt Lake and so it's been a struggle to survive these last three years."
She notes, however, that there were 30 people waiting to help them unload since they have family in the area. Campos has since found part-time work that has helped her make ends meet.
Once a month, she drives three hours to Gunnison for a two-hour visit with her husband.
It is community support, family and faith that have helped her and sustained her since the shooting. She said regularly attending LDS temple and church services has helped her keep her head above water.
"I would probably need to go on anxiety medication if it weren't for the temple," she said. "I've always been a really calm and just easygoing person and until you experience something like this, you don't realize you can relate to others who have depression or anxiety. It's really hard to get up and go and function. I still have depression and anxiety, but I'm trying to do the things I need to do to shake it and get through it."
Meant to be?
There is a lot that her husband has missed. Their oldest daughter left for an LDS mission to Thailand and will return in three weeks. Stephanie Campos will get married a week after her sister's return. Soon, their son, R.J., will be baptized.
Kathy Campos does not blame her husband for that.
"I just feel like, gosh, everybody makes mistakes in their life and sometimes we make mistakes in the spur of the moment and that's what happened to Reggie," she said. "But I'm not sure it was really a mistake. Everything just came into place for this event to happen."
Weeks before the shooting, the Campos' mail was stolen and their garage was burglarized. Before then, her husband had always kept his gun in storage and seldom used it. But he took it out of storage and moved it to a lock box in the couple's closet after the burglary.
Kathy Campos believes all of it happened for a reason: the fact that they put offers on homes in Lehi and Saratoga Springs only to end up in Bluffdale, the burglaries, the way it worked out that both men were still on the road the night of the incident.
"I totally feel like this whole thing was kind of destined, because I don't think the stars, the moon or the sun could have been lined up any better that night. If he had come home five seconds earlier or waited five seconds, they would have never crossed paths and this never would have happened," she said. "But then had he been found innocent, these girls wouldn't have come forward and Serbeck wouldn't be in prison."
"I think, had this never happened, we'd be in our beautiful home in Bluffdale and just going on our happy way and everything would be fine," she said, before gesturing toward Stephanie and her fiancé. "But these two would have never met. Also, Reggie had been inactive in the church, he had fallen away and this has brought him back."
She said the wake of the shooting pushed her into the stages of grief, with anger, bargaining, depression. But she has decided not to cling to the anger or resentment.
Prison has softened her husband and she said he just wants to be home with his family. She is hopeful that her husband's lack of criminal history will work in his favor and that once he spends three years in prison, he will be released soon after. He has been tutoring and helping other prisoners and taking guitar and piano lessons.
"He's doing the best he can in a bad situation and I told him, 'If you get resentful or bitter, I don't want you when you come home,'" she said. "I don't want that. I don't want him coming home and being angry and bitter all his life. I want to move on. I want to move past this."
Campos will go before the Utah Court of Appeals Monday to ask for a new trial on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct and arguing that the judge was wrong about what evidence to admit. The Utah Attorney General's Office will seek to uphold his conviction.
Whatever happens, the Campos family is prepared. If anything, they have learned how unpredictable life can be.
"You just never know what's around the corner," Kathy Campos said. "You think you have your life planned and you're planning it a certain way and it's going to go the way you want it, and it doesn't happen that way. Things happen in a moment's notice and it changes your life completely.
"You just have to learn from those experience and try to make the best of it and move forward and good things happen … other blessings happen. It's not always doom and gloom.
"There's always another door that opens and you can have joy and happiness again. You have to put things in an eternal perspective."
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