Contractor guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Philly building collapse [updated]

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After deliberating for just five hours, a Philadelphia jury on Monday found the general contractor in the 2013 Center City building collapse guilty of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and other offenses.

Griffin Campbell had faced third-degree murder charges and possibly life in prison. Prosecutors say they are still pleased with the outcome of the roughly two-week case.

“I hope that it does provide some semblance of closure for something as horrible and overwhelming as this kind of tragedy,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber.

Six people died and 13 more were injured after a three-story, freestanding wall crushed a neighboring Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market streets.

During Campbell’s trial, prosecutors argued that Campbell cut corners while taking down the building because he was more interested in salvaging the building’s guts than public safety.

Three of Campbell’s employees also testified that they expressed concerns about the wall that fell June 5, 2013. The project’s lead architect, Plato Marinakos, said on the stand that he warned him the night before the collapse.

When it was his turn to testify, Campbell, 51, disputed those conversations and other evidence presented by Selber and Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron, who also prosecuted the case.

That includes testimony that Campbell ordered an excavator operator to chip away at the building’s eastern wall the day of the collapse.

Campbell a scapegoat, attorney says

Following Monday’s verdict, Bill Hobson, Campbell’s lawyer, continued to call his client a scapegoat, paying for the mistakes of more powerful people above him.

“I still feel that Mr. Campbell was led into a project – he was lured there by Plato [Marinakos] and the powers that be. The bidding process speaks for itself.”

Campbell was hired after bidding $112,000 to demolish a handful of buildings along the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street, according to testimony. He told jurors he took the job because Marinakos said he would guide him through the process and provide him with more lucrative work afterwards.

Before Market Street, Campbell had only demolished a three-story row home in his North Philadelphia neighborhood. He didn’t have a general contractor’s license until six months before the collapse.

Campbell faced third-degree murder charges and life in prison. Selber said Campbell could still spend that much time behind bars. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8.

“If you’re going to take a building down, you have to do it the right way. You can’t take shortcuts, you can’t ignore the law, you have to look out for the safety of everybody,” said Cameron.

Campbell is one of two demolition workers arrested after the collapse.

In July, Sean Benschop, the excavator operator pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, causing a catastrophe and recklessly endangering another person.

Under the deal, he agreed to testify against his former boss. In exchange, the third-degree murder changes were dropped, and Benschop can’t be sentenced to more than 10 to 20 years in prison. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.

Prosecutors offered Campbell the same deal, but he rejected it. He now stands convicted of the same charges.

A consolidated civil trial is slated to start in September, said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who will be representing some of the victims in those proceedings.

“This criminal trial just dealt with Griffin Campbell’s responsibility,” said Mongeluzzi. “The responsibility of the owner, the Salvation Army and others who contributed to this catastrophe, remains for the civil trial. And they look forward to proceeding with the civil trial so that everyone is held accountable.”

Richard Basciano, the building’s owner, was never criminally charged.

Marinakos was granted immunity in exchange for testifying during a grand jury investigation into the collapse and Campbell’s trial.

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