SALT LAKE CITY — Reggie Campos' attorney made a plea before the Utah Court of Appeals Monday for a new trial for his client.
In 2010, a jury found Campos guilty of attempted murder, a first-degree felony, and two counts of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony. He was sentenced to three years to life in prison. 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 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. After finding him and confronting him, Campos fired twice. The first shot missed Serbeck. The second left him paralyzed from the waist down. Campos maintains he acted in self-defense.
Monday, Campos' attorney went before the three member court of appeals and requested a new trial arguing that his original trial attorney made too many mistakes, there was prosecutorial misconduct and that the trial court judge was wrong about what evidence to admit.
Campos was not present at the hearing, but a large number of family members were.
Herschel Bullen, who represents Campos, said the jury was not given proper instructions. The result was, "It turned the burden of proof standard on its head," he said.
The crux of the argument Monday seemed to be the idea of what's called "imperfect self-defense," meaning a person is under such distress that they commit a violent action to protect themselves. Bullen said if that option had been presented to jurors, they may have found his client guilty of a reduced charge of attempted manslaughter instead of attempted murder.
But assistant attorney general Mark Field, who handled the appeal for the state, argued that an imperfect self-defense wasn't an option in this case. Campos' distress seemed to be caused by his upset daughter. While every parent wants to protect their children, Field said everyone who has a hysterical teenage daughter doesn't have a right to commit vigilante justice.
"I'm not saying Mr. Campos wasn't distressed by his daughter. I mean, any parent would be. But to say he was exposed to such stress that it caused him to simply lose control and not know what he was doing, that somehow he was at that point justified in pulling out his gun and shooting Mr. Serbeck, that doesn't work in this case," Field said.
Appellate Judge Carolyn McHugh also noted in her questioning of Bullen that it would have been easy for Campos to stay inside his house once his daughter got home and just call police.
"I understand that his daughter was in a panic and was hysterical, and she thought people were following her. But the decisions Mr. Campos made of putting her back in the car and going out and trying to find somebody and putting her in a position where there could possibly be a gun fight ... I don't understand why he didn't simply say, 'You stay here, we'll call 911,'" he said. "I guess I don't understand why he made the decision to go out and try and find these guys and engage in a gunfight."
But Bullen said his client left the house with his gun "for protection. He didn't know what he was going to come upon."
Judge William A. Thorne wondered what father wouldn't be under great distress if they believed their child was in danger. "The question was, did he make bad choices because of his distress?" Thorne asked.
"A teen being hysterical cannot be the standard for extreme emotional distress," Field reiterated.4 comments on this story
But Bullen said any young girl who tells her father she's being stalked by men who are out "trolling" would raise great concern. "If that doesn't disturb you, then something's wrong with you," he said.
The three judges took the case under advisement and will announce their decision at a later time.
After Campos was convicted, Serbeck went on trial himself for unrelated sexual contact with a teen girl. He was sentenced in 2012 to up to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of three counts of unlawful sexual activity with a 16- or 17-year-old, a third-degree felony.