Until Eric Campbell’s trial, the Granville County district attorney hadn’t tried a case capitally in more than two decades. He should have kept the streak going.
On Wednesday, a jury deliberated only about two hours before rejecting the death penalty and sentencing Campbell to life with no possibility of parole. In the end, adding the threat of execution to the mix only made this tragic case more painful and protracted.
The trial started in May, with the arduous process of selecting a “death-qualified” jury, which means finding people who are willing to vote for a person’s execution but also able to consider circumstances that call for mercy. Jury selection took more than three weeks. In a non-capital trial, it usually takes two or three days.
The trial was lengthened by several extended breaks, including one after the jury had difficulty in deliberations due to the emotional intensity of the case and then a juror was involved in a serious car accident. The guilt phase alone lasted nearly two months. Add another week for the penalty phase, which happens only in capital trials — and in this case involved bringing in witnesses from Texas who had just endured Hurricane Harvey.
All this to seek the death penalty for a young man who the jury, during sentencing, found was a minor participant in the event and acted under the domination of his father.
Eric’s mentally ill and abusive father, Edward Campbell, planned and carried out the brutal murders of Jerome and Dora Faulkner. Edward, who terrorized Eric throughout his childhood, brought his 21-year-old son along mostly as a frightened spectator. Edward killed himself in jail, leaving Eric to face murder charges alone.
The trial carried a huge cost for everyone involved — the jurors, the attorneys, the DA’s office, the community, and almost certainly, the family of the victims. All to arrive at a result that could have been achieved in a couple weeks instead of several months.
Juries across North Carolina have made it clear they no longer want to kill people. [Wake County juries have rejected death sentences at eight capital trials in a row.] When will prosecutors stop asking them to?