Penalty phase: Life or death?

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By Abdon Sidibe

INVERNESS — Prosecutor Pete Magrino will not tip his hand as to what his team’s strategy will be going into next week’s penalty phase in the case of the State of Florida v. John William Campbell.

However, Magrino had this to offer: He believes Campbell’s case is a death-penalty case and his team has, since the inception of the case, endeavored to  present evidence including the fact Campbell is a seven-time felon in order to make it so.

“We intend to have additional testimony as to the aggravating factors,” Magrino said.

Campbell, 39, was unanimously convicted by a jury Friday of first-degree murder in the hacking death of his father, John Henry Campbell, 68. 

Magrino said the aggravating-factors testimony will come from two witnesses.

Meanwhile, Campbell attorneys Devon Sharkey and Michael Lamberti are readying for this life-or-death legal tussle.

Their charge is to present enough mitigating factors to spare Campbell’s life.

Sharkey said the defense has five witnesses lined up.

Judge Ric Howard as a certified first-degree murder trial judge will have the final say in Campbell’s sentence, however, the law requires him to give “great weight” to the jury recommendation.

Howard has already asked the jury to reconvene Tuesday morning for this phase of the trial. He instructed jurors to steer clear of any media coverage and discussion of the case.

According to Florida statute, prosecutors must prove any of 16 aggravating factors in their efforts to attempt to convince the jury to vote for death.

Florida is one of a few states that only requires a plurality of votes among the panel. If seven out of the panel of 12 jurors vote for death — that will be the recommendation to the judge, explained Magrino.

Some aggravating factors, prosecutors could argue are that Campbell’s actions were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”

Prosecutors’ arguments and presentations have limits on them, however. There are no limits on the defense’s mitigating evidence.

As per law, the defense attorneys may present any evidence that would mitigate against imposition of the death penalty.

It will be up to the jurors to see which side’s evidence outweighs the other’s and recommend accordingly.

At the end, after Howard makes the final sentencing decision, he must say which of the aggravating factors led to his decision.