Conspiracy counts upheld against two charged in Market Street collapse

Posted: June 05, 2014

THE TWO MEN facing a murder trial in last June's Market Street building collapse that killed six people lost another round in court yesterday after a judge rejected their requests to throw out conspiracy charges.

Following a brief motions hearing, Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner ruled that city prosecutors had presented enough evidence during a Feb. 18 preliminary hearing to sustain the conspiracy charges.

A trial date has not yet been set for Sean Benschop, 43, and Griffin Campbell, 50, who are being held without bail.

In addition to facing conspiracy counts, both defendants are each charged with six counts of third-degree murder, six counts of involuntary manslaughter and related offenses for their roles in the June 5 disaster on Market Street near 22nd.

The six victims were killed and 13 others injured when the wall of a building being demolished toppled onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store.

Defense attorney Daine Grey told Lerner that his client, Benschop, the excavator operator on the site, was merely an employee who took orders from Campbell, the demolition contractor who hired him.

"He was a day worker who simply followed his employer's instructions," Grey said.

But Lerner rejected that, saying regardless of Benschop's employee status to Griffin, it is clear that both agreed on how they would take down the unsupported wall that fell on the thrift store.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber said there is no question that Campbell and Benschop conspired to demolish the building in a dangerous manner - even after both had been previously warned not to use an excavator in that manner.

"They conspired because it's a separate criminal act when you make an agreement to do something criminal," she said. "And in this case the 'something criminal'was taking that building down in a reckless manner. "

Griffin's defense attorney, William D. Hobson, in addition to seeking to get the conspiracy charge dismissed, also told Lerner he planned to file motions seeking bail and a separate trial from Benschop. Lerner said he would entertain those motions possibly at the next scheduled court hearing on June 24.

After the hearing, Hobson and Grey told reporters that Campbell and Benschop are being scapegoated by city prosecutors.

Hobson said that while his prayers are with the victims, race is a glaring factor in the case because both defendants are black while others who have not been charged are white, including the owner of the building that was being demolished, Richard Basciano.

"This is not third-degree murder, it's not involuntary manslaughter. It's a tragic accident that starts way above [the defendants] at the power," Hobson said.

"It starts with deputy mayors and real-estate developers and Basciano and Plato Marinakos," an architect hired by Basciano.

Selber declined to say if the investigating grand jury that indicted the defendants was still hearing evidence that could result in others being arrested. She said her office would oppose granting bail for the defendants and separate trials.

Kim Campbell, 47, said her husband Griffin "is not the monster that the media says he is. I know he's not."

When asked to reflect on this week's first anniversary of the collapse, the mother of four said: "Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and the victims."

On Twitter: @MensahDean


comments powered by Disqus