A Dunnellon woman convicted three years ago for killing two people in a drunk-driving accident will continue to serve her 30-year prison sentence after failing this week to convince a judge that her lawyer failed to do his job, at least for now.
Marianne Campbell’s new Jacksonville lawyer, Charles Fletcher, filed a post-conviction motion in late 2019 citing eight errors her former attorney made, and their negative repercussions in the outcome of the trial, and asked that the jury trial and sentencing be vacated. Overseeing Fletcher’s request was Circuit Judge Richard Howard, the same judge who oversaw the March 2017 trial and later sentenced the 56-year-old woman.
Howard reviewed the motion and said that of the eight issues raised in the motion, three warranted a hearing and review. After the two-hour hearing, Howard determined that Campbell’s first attorney, Greg Messore, provided her with adequate defense and made no errors.
Fletcher told the Chronicle that he would appeal Howard’s decision.
A jury found Campbell guilty in connection to the 2014 deaths of 75-year-old Greta Overbay and 74-year-old Ruby Pearl Ray, who had recently moved to Citrus County.
Campbell had a blood-alcohol level of 0.185 or higher on the night of Oct. 27, 2014, when she was driving the wrong way on U.S. 19 near Stonebrook Drive, where she collided head-on with Overbay and Ray’s vehicle. The blood was taken at the hospital where Campbell was also taken with life-threatening injuries. Campbell had arrived from a business trip from Pennsylvania to Tampa and was driving home.
The first issue that Howard agreed to review was a statement by former Citrus County Sheriff’s deputy Greg Entrekin that he saw an alcohol bottle in the rear passenger area of Campbell’s car after the accident.
Fletcher argued in the motion that Messore failed to adequately challenge the deputy. That’s because Entrekin failed to mention the bottle in his initial report nor when his superior asked him whether he found anything in the vehicle, according to the motion. The deputy also failed to place the bottle into evidence. And while there were many photographs of the accident and vehicle, none showed an alcohol bottle.
The first Messore and Campbell heard of the bottle was when the deputy was making a videotaped recording of his testimony for the jury. The deputy was living out of the country and Howard allowed for the video interview.
Campbell told Howard during her hearing this week that she thought the statement was going to be edited out of Entrekin’s interview, but when the jury heard the statement, the damage was done.
“I about had a cow. I was blindsided,” Campbell said of the bottle statement.
During the hearing this week, Messore told Howard that he thought he adequately impeached the deputy and the statement. But he also said that part of his defense was that Campbell had been drinking but had just started when the accident occurred. His argument was that she was not legally impaired when the accident occurred, but that she was when she finally arrived at the hospital and a blood sample was obtained.
Messore said he didn’t focus on the bottle more during the trial because it was consistent with his rising blood alcohol level defense.
“Have you ever won a case with a client that chugged a bottle of vodka just before an accident,” Fletcher asked Messore.
Messore replied, “It doesn’t make you look like a responsible person, but you have to play the cards you're dealt.”
Messore admitted to Fletcher and Howard he had never tried a rising blood alcohol level defense before Campbell’s trial.
Fletcher also told Howard that Messore failed in his duties when he persuaded Campbell not to testify.
Campbell told Howard this week that had she testified, she could have explained much of the prosecutor’s evidence and witness statements against her.
“I knew I was not impaired (during the accident),” she told Howard. “I knew the state’s theory was incorrect. I was the only person there. I needed to testify.”
“I wanted them (the jury) to know who Marianne Campbell was,” she said, adding she had never been in trouble with law enforcement, nor did she ever drink too much alcohol.
As an example, an EMT testified that before treating her at the scene of the accident, Campbell said she had been drinking with friends.
But Campbell told Howard that if her lawyer had not talked her out of testifying she would have told the jury that drinking with friends wasn’t possible. She said her Turnpike Sunpass showed she was driving home from the Tampa airport and never stopped.
She also told Howard that suggesting to the jury that maybe she drank alcohol just minutes before the accident and it had not yet impaired her was “insane” and “ridiculous.”
She said she never drank to excess and had one drink on the plane, with one layover, and that was all.
Messore said he did not place her Sunpass records into evidence or discuss during the trial the timeline driving from the airport to her home.
Campbell said Messore urged her strongly not to testify and that it could mean losing the case. She said Messore also failed to provide her with her Sunpass records and maps that she could have used to show the jury she was driving straight home and that she did not stop to buy or drink alcohol.
Messore told Howard that Campbell was in an accident during a separate incidence in Orland and alcohol could have played a role. He said he feared prosecutors would find that report and bring it to the jury if Campbell testified.
“If they found it it could be trouble,” Messore said.
But Campbell told Howard that she had swerved to miss a pothole in Orlando and the accident was minor and that she was never charged for the traffic accident nor accused of being impaired.
Fletcher said that given these, and the other issues in the motion, her conviction and sentence should be vacated.
But Howard said that Messore was an experienced lawyer and did what was necessary to try and address the testimony against his client.
Howard also said that Campbell was a “strong-willed woman” and could have testified if she wanted to. Howard said Campbell could not “go back (now) and say I want a whole new trial.”