Murder trial begins for contractor in Philadelphia building collapse

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 12:00 PM

By Natalie Pompilio

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A contractor on trial for murder for his role in the demolition of a Philadelphia building that triggered a neighboring store's collapse and killed six people in 2013 operated out of greed at the cost of safety, prosecutors argued on Wednesday.

Opening arguments in the third-degree murder trial of Griffin Campbell, who could receive a life sentence if convicted on more than one of the six murder charges, began on Wednesday.

“It’s money over lives,” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber told a jury at the Common Pleas Court in front of Judge Glenn B. Bronson.

Selber said Campbell should have stopped the work the day of the collapse but went forward despite obvious dangers. “What do you say about a person who makes those kinds of choices? You say ‘guilty,’” she said.

Defense attorney William Hobson argued that Campbell, 51, was a fall guy for more powerful players in the construction project.

“Griff, he’s just a working guy,” Hobson said. “He was not willful. He did not commit these crimes. He is not a murderer.”

Campbell and equipment operator Sean Benschop, 44, were the only people criminally charged in the collapse.

Benschop pleaded guilty in July to six counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges. Prosecutors said they would seek a prison sentence not to exceed 10 to 20 years for Benschop, who tested positive for marijuana.

Campbell rejected the same plea offer that Benschop accepted.

Prosecutors say Campbell was the "center of culpability" for the June 5, 2013, tragedy after winning the demolition contract with a rock-bottom bid that prompted him to cut corners. 

Bricks and lumber from the century-old building fell onto the neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, killing four shoppers and two workers. About a dozen people were injured, including a woman who was trapped in rubble for more than 12 hours and had to have both legs amputated.

A few days after the collapse, a city inspector who had examined the job site and reported no problems fatally shot himself in the chest. While officials concluded the inspector was not responsible for the collapse, he left a video message for his wife and young son saying he "should have been more diligent" in overseeing the project.

(Reporting by Natalie Pompilio; Editing by; Laila Kearney and Mohammad Zargham)