Murder trial begins for contractor in Center City collapse

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 After the 2013 collapse, rescue personnel work the scene on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia that left six people dead. General contractor Griffin Campbell is standing trial on third-degree murder charges in the deaths of six people who perished in the collapse. (AP file photo)

After the 2013 collapse, rescue personnel work the scene on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia that left six people dead. General contractor Griffin Campbell is standing trial on third-degree murder charges in the deaths of six people who perished in the collapse. (AP file photo)

Inevitable.

That’s how Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber described the deadly 2013 Center City building collapse as the murder trial of the site’s general contractor began.

 

“This was not some sort of freak accident … it wasn’t even bad luck,” Selber told the jury in her opening statement Wednesday.

Griffin Campbell, she said, is a big reason why.

Campbell, 51, is charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses in connection with the June 5, 2013, collapse at 22nd and Market streets that killed six and injured 13 others.

Prosecutors maintain that Campbell knowingly cut corners during the demolition of a four-story building.

Selber contended that Campbell’s decision to flout “the most basic rules of safety” directly led to a 30-foot, freestanding wall’s pancaking onto the neighboring Salvation Army Thrift Store, a day she called “one of the worst catastrophes Philadelphia had seen in years.”

Sher argued that Campbell only cared about the salvage money he stood to make from selling off the building’s interior and not the lives he was putting at risk by tearing down the building unsafely.

Campbell also ignored multiple warnings that the wall was a severe safety hazard, Selber said, including one handed down the night before the collapse.

“He set up the dominoes and knocked them all down,” she said.

During a fiery, hourlong turn before the jury, defense attorney William Hobson painted a different picture, calling his client a scapegoat who is paying for the mistakes made by powerful, decision-makers above him.

“What separates Griff Campbell from everyone else is the cash, clout and connections that would give him the ability to pick up the phone or send a text to City Hall,” he said.

Hobson took considerable aim at Plato Marinakos, the site’s architect who was granted immunity by the district attorney’s office during its grand jury investigation into the collapse.

Hobson called Marinakos a “weasel and a Judas” and said it was him, not Campbell, who called the shots and had opportunities to prevent the collapse.

“Don’t make Griffin Campbell the seventh victim,” Campbell told jurors.

Afterwards, prosecutors said Hobson had violated a pretrial order that he not defend Campbell by implying that others are criminally culpable.

Judge Glenn Bronson agreed and said he would instruct members of the jury that they were selected only to rule on whether Campbell is guilty.

The trial is expected to take nearly a month to complete.

Hobson said Campbell would testify.

Equipment operator Sean Benschop, who pleaded guilty in July to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, is listed as a witness for the prosecution. Campbell was offered the same plea deal as Benschop but turned it down.

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