Collene Campbell has devoted her life to being an advocate for crime victims and their families. The former two-term San Juan Capistrano mayor’s son was murdered in 1982, and her brother and his wife were slain in an unrelated case six years later.
Since then, Campbell has worked to bring more rights to crime victims who are navigating the judicial system.
Now, Campbell has her sights set on the U.S. Constitution.
The 80-year-old San Juan Capistrano resident flew Monday to the nation’s capital, where three U.S. representatives, including Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, have introduced a constitutional amendment that would require that crime victims be notified of all court proceedings involving their cases. The constitutional subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is to consider the amendment Thursday.
Campbell’s trip coincides with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
“It’s very hard for a person my age and my sight to be traveling by myself and leaving my family behind,” Campbell said Monday in a phone call from Washington, D.C. “If I didn’t think we could do some good and make some difference, I wouldn’t be here.”
At least two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the proposed amendment, then at least three-fourths of the 50 states must ratify it. It’s a long process that is far from easy, but Campbell said the proposal is “very, very simple.”
“If I was king, I’d be trying to do something bigger,” she said.
Royce said the amendment would not change California’s judicial system because of Proposition 115, a state constitutional amendment that passed as a ballot initiative in 1990. Among other things, the measure provided that “criminal defendants in California are not to have greater constitutional rights than those afforded under the U.S. Constitution.”
The California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act, also known as Marsy’s Law, was passed by voters in 2008. It guaranteed that murder victims’ family members have the right to testify at the killer’s sentencing and enables parole boards to prohibit convicts from asking for parole for up to 15 years.
Royce said 18 states lack similar amendments. The proposed amendment would ensure that victims in those states have the same rights.
“In a number of cases, you have the rights of the victims or survivors initially denied and then only recognized after extensive litigation,” Royce said. “Victims should not have to go through litigation to exercise the rights they should inherently have.”
Ronnetta Johnson, director of victim-assistance programs through Community Service Programs, the primary provider of victims’ services in Orange County, said: “I do think there is definitely merit in having a constitutional amendment for victims’ rights. It puts everything on a more equal basis.”
Campbell and her husband, Gary, founded advocacy group Memory of Victims Everywhere and helped lay the groundwork for Marsy’s Law. They also worked with Royce on Proposition 115.
“It works in California,” Campbell said. “But now we’re trying to do something national that will work for everybody.”
Campbell’s journey of advocacy began in 1982 when her son, Scott, was murdered on a small airplane and his body dumped into the ocean near Catalina Island from 2,000 feet above.
Lawrence Rayburn Cowell is serving 25 years to life in prison for the crime. Co-defendant Donald Demascio, sentenced to life without parole, died in prison.
The Campbells withstood three trials for the killers. A jury convicted Cowell of first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit murder in 1985, but the state Court of Appeals overturned the convictions because of improper evidence and ordered a new trial. Cowell was convicted again in 1988.
That was the year that Campbell’s brother, auto-racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were shot to death in Bradbury. Thompson’s former business associate Michael Goodwin, who hired hit men to kill the couple, was sentenced to two life terms in 2007. The killers have not been identified.
Cowell was denied parole for the third time in 2011. He can’t ask again until 2016. The Campbells attended his parole hearings and have learned more than they ever expected about the criminal-justice system.
Collene Campbell hopes her knowledge can help others.
“We got an education we sure as hell didn’t want, but we’re trying to utilize that education in a positive way,” she said.
By MEGHANN M. CUNIFF/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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