By Jerod Clapp
For The Lebanon Reporter
David Camm today is free for the first time in 13 years of allegations he killed his family, and that, said his attorneys, should be seen as more than a not guilty verdict.
“This needs to be seen as a vindication of David,” co-defense counsel Richard Kammen said.
A jury took about 10 hours to decide that Camm was not guilty of shooting his wife, Kim, and their children, Bradley and Jill, in their Georgetown, Ind., home in September 2000.
The brief deliberation “is nothing more than complete vindication of David Camm,” Kammen said. “I hope that the viewers, especially the people in southern Indiana, really understand that; this man has been innocent and has been wrongly accused for 13 years.”
Not everyone was happy about the verdict.
“The Renns (Jill Camm's family), especially Frank, were stunned,” said Nick Stein, the Renn family attorney. “I mean, he was really stunned in the courtroom. He didn’t see it coming. ... Frank and Janice were pretty optimistic, and they were devastated.”
The Renn family has two civil cases against Camm pending in Floyd County Circuit Court, both of which had been put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings. Now that the criminal case has concluded, the civil cases will move forward, Stein said.
“We’ve taken a back seat to the criminal proceedings all these years because the significance of the civil cases pales in comparison to the criminal proceedings,” Stein said. “But now that they’re out of the way, we will be proceeding on those.
“So everybody knows, a not-guilty verdict on the third time around, after $5 million of defense costs, does not mean he didn’t do it,” Stein added.
The verdict certainly won’t preclude Camm from losing the civil suits, said Indiana University School of Law professor Don Gjerdingen, because the standard of proof is different in civil cases.
“The biggest example of that, of course, is the O.J. Simpson trial,” Gjerdingen said. “That kind of illustrated how this worked. In the O.J. case, they found that the prosecution didn’t meet the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. But that didn’t preclude a civil jury later on from finding in a wrongful death action in California that more likely than not, under that lesser standard of proof, that O.J. did it.”
Camm’s 13-year ordeal as the accused killer of his family ended at 12:40 p.m. in Boone County’s Circuit Courtroom, when Judge Jonathan Dartt spoke the words “not guilty” on the first charge, of killing Kim Camm.
Camm gasped, sobbed and rocked in relief. With the second and third “not guilty” verdicts, his sobs grew louder.
His family and friends wept, hugged, and clasped hands in prayer. Across the aisle, the family and friends of Jill Camm sat in shock.
“We put on as good a case as we could, and the jury spoke pretty clearly,” Special Prosecutor Stan Levco said.
“It’s a pretty clear result. If it were a hung jury or something, I think you could second-guess certain things, or say this piece of evidence might have made a difference, but it was a pretty clear verdict,” Levco said.
Dartt’s decision to exclude from this trial allegations that Jill had been sexually molested, and that Camm had had affairs, was fair, Levco said.
“Obviously, he was convicted the first and second times when that was in, but each trial is different,” Levco said. “Each jury is different.”
The jury deliberated for 10 hours, a period both the state and the defense thought favored them.
“The 10 hours didn’t bother me at all,” Levco said. “With hindsight it doesn’t sound very wise, but I thought it was going to be a guilty verdict.”
“This is a vindication of our appellate court and our supreme court for doing the right thing,” defense counsel Stacy Uliana said.
Camm’s first words to his lawyers were “thank you,” Kammen said.
“He said ‘thank you’ to the jury,” Uliana said, “because they had a lot of courage; it takes a lot of courage to stand up to the state of Indiana and 13 years.”
It should have been obvious to the prosecution that they were chasing a phantom suspect, Kammen said, but instead investigators wasted their time focusing on Camm.
“Charles Boney committed these murders,” Kammen said. “Had he been discovered prior to (Camm’s) first trial. Let’s be honest, if they interrogate (Boney) as a suspect, the odds are you’d have seen the state of Indiana versus Charles Boney in 2002, rather than in 2005.”
Camm’s reintroduction into society will be done carefully, Uliana said.
“We’re going to go one step at a time, and first he has to mourn his family,” Uliana said. Camm was arrested 70 hours after Kim, Brad and Jill were killed; he wasn’t allowed to attend the funerals.
“He was never given the opportunity to properly mourn his family,” Uliana said. “It’s been survival since three days after his family was taken from him. So, I think, he just has to start doing what a person could normally do, and start mourning them, and then he can start worrying about himself.”
“Where do you go from here?” one in a throng of reporters asked Donald Camm, David’s father, and Julie Blankenbaker, Camm’s sister, following Camm’s departure from the courthouse.
Donald Camm paused and said, “I’m going to get me a cup of coffee,” prompting grins from the media and a hug from his daughter.
“I don’t have the words,” he said. “I can’t tell you what I feel. I’ve never had this feeling before.”
What was the difference between this and the two other trials, the father and sister were asked.
“It was a courtroom where only truth could be shared with the jury,” Blankenbaker said.
“Truth, that’s the one word, truth,” Donald Camm said. “It was brought out in front of 12 people who stopped, looked at it, analyzed it and said, ‘hey, this is factual. This is what we’ll go with.’”
Immediately after Dartt dismissed the jury, he granted Kammen’s request that Camm have a few minutes with members of his family, including his father, sister and an uncle, in private, before going through release procedures at the Boone County Jail.
At that meeting, during his first minutes of freedom, David Camm “was just completely overwhelmed,” Donald Camm said. “What can you say, after ending up being 13 years (in prison) for something you know you didn’t do?”
Camm survived the last 13 years because of that knowledge, his father said. “He knew he was innocent and that’s where he got his strength, to get to the point where he is today.”
“We’re tired of fighting,” Blankenbaker said. “We just want to move forward and help David restore his life.”
She was not sure if the Camm and Renn families could reconcile. “We’ve not been able to do that,” she said.
“I wouldn’t predict on that one way or the other,” Donald Camm said.
“Whether those people in New Albany will receive him, is the furthest thing on my mind,” Blankenbaker said. “And if they don’t, shame on them.”
Blankenbaker was unsure if Camm would sue the state for wrongful imprisonment. “He may not want to,” she said. “We’ll just see what God has for Dave out there.”
Activism on behalf of people who share the trauma of misdirected justice may be one of those tasks, Blankenbaker suggested.
“I think this experience is something he can translate into something to help other wrongfully convicted people,” she said.
She will join that effort, Blankenbaker said.
“I know Dave’s wrongful conviction is not the last one I’m going to be concerned with, and I think the same is probably true for Dave as well.”
Uliana said it was possible that Camm could sue the state, but she is not a civil attorney. “I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “But, there was a lot of misconduct in this case, a lot, especially with the first prosecutor.
Floyd County has spent millions of dollars prosecuting Camm, and could spend millions more in the prosecution of William Clyde Gibson, an alleged serial killer whose first of three murder trials began earlier this month.
The massive debt has become a political and social issue in Floyd County.
Camm should not be blamed for his staggering court costs, Uliana said, adding angry taxpayers should hurl that burden at the prosecution and the investigators who ignored reality and tried to put Camm, an innocent man, in a cell.
“For 13 years, we’ve known he was innocent,” Uliana said. “I know it’s cost the taxpayers of Floyd County a lot of money, but it’s simply because those in charge wouldn’t admit they made a mistake.”
“They need to look at the prosecutors and those who’ve been in charge, and who have continuously gone down this path, when people have told them over and over again, ‘you’re going in the wrong direction.’”
Sam Lockhart was one uncle who met with Camm after the verdict.
“Mentally, I guess, he’s been abused by the system,” Lockhart said. “I believe he has a way of blunting his expectations.”
Before this trial, “he was hopeful, and so was I,” Lockhart said. “I expected it to come out like it is, but Dave did not cross over that threshold of thinking that it was going to come back not guilty because of the emotions he would have had to deal with.”
Lockhart took in the number of TV cameras, microphones and voice recorders thrust at him.
“I’ve had this dream before,” he said. “I hope you guys are real.”
• Jerod Clapp and Matt Koesters of the News and Tribune contributed to this story.