SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed the attempted murder conviction of a Bluffdale man who shot a self-identified neighborhood watch volunteer during an armed confrontation in 2009.
The ruling means Reggie Campos, who is serving a three-year-to-life sentence at the Utah State Prison, is entitled to a new trial. The court, however, affirmed his conviction for aggravated assault.
Campos challenged his convictions, alleging a number of errors in the trial and arguing that he was denied a fair trial because he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal counsel.
Campos contended his defense lawyer failed to request a jury instruction on extreme emotional distress, failed to object to a flawed verdict form, and failed to object to misstatements made by the prosecutor in closing arguments.
The appellate court concluded the attorney performed inadequately in those instances.
"The cumulative effect of the deficient performance undermines our confidence that Campos received a fair trial, and absent counsel’s errors, there is a reasonable probability of a different result," the court wrote.
Herschel Bullen, who represents Campos, said the jury received inconsistent instructions about reasonable doubt that "turned the presumption of innocence on its head."
The crux of Bullen's argument before the court earlier this year centered on emotional distress and "imperfect self-defense," meaning a person is under such distress that they commit a violent action to protect themselves. He said if those options were given to jurors, they might have found Campos guilty of a reduced charge of attempted manslaughter instead of attempted murder.
"It left the jury with only one possibility," he said Thursday. "It put the defendant in an impossible position."
Campos shot David Serbeck — causing an injury that left him paralyzed — after confronting him on a neighborhood street in Bluffdale not far from Campos' home.
Campos believed Serbeck was stalking his teen daughter. Serbeck contended he and another man were doing a neighborhood watch because of recent burglaries in the area.
Serbeck, who also had a gun, had followed a vehicle that Campos' 16-year-old daughter and her friends were in, causing the scared and upset girl to call her father. After she got home, Campos took his daughter back out to look for the man.
Campos located and confronted Serbeck, shooting at him twice. The first shot missed. The second left Serbeck paralyzed from the waist down. Campos maintains he acted in self-defense.
In 2010, a jury found Campos guilty of attempted murder, a first-degree felony, and aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
Serbeck is serving time in prison for an unrelated crime. He was convicted in March of 2012 of three counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor for having sexual relations with a then-17-year-old neighbor girl in 2007.
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