Judge denies new trial for Georgia man shot by police

Judge denies new trial for Georgia man shot by police

June 21st, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News
Thomas Zane Campbell was convicted in March 2017 of three counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. A judge denied his motion for a new trial on June 8.

Thomas Zane Campbell was convicted in March 2017...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

A Chickamauga, Georgia, man shot by police last year will not go before a jury again in his criminal case.

A jury convicted Thomas Zane Campbell, 32, of three counts of possession of a firearm by a felon in Catoosa County Superior Court in March 2017 after he skipped the last day of his trial. He left the court's parking lot that day to check in at the Cornerstone Medical Center emergency room, complaining to his father that his chest felt tight.

After the jury convicted Campbell, a judge sentenced him to 13 years in prison. But meanwhile, police and his parents didn't know where he was for two weeks, until officers received a report that he was at a friend's house in Trion. When they found him on the porch, Campbell slid a gun under his chin and pointed upward. An officer then shot Campbell's arms and legs, and paramedics airlifted him to a hospital.

A Chattooga County grand jury later concluded the officers acted appropriately.

A year later, Campbell is at Coastal State Prison in Garden City, Georgia. His attorney, Charles Wright, filed a motion for a new trial in Catoosa County, arguing that Campbell suffered a mental breakdown the day he skipped his trial. Wright said that prejudiced him in the eyes of the jury, making it more difficult to win his case.

"As soon as a criminal defendant goes into court, he's got the whole state against him," Wright said. "You're swimming upstream to begin with. When you don't show up for court, the jury is in a position to infer the worst: That he's a fugitive from justice. It's very prejudicial."

But on June 8, Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. denied Campbell's motion. He said there was no evidence that Campbell actually suffered a psychological break that kept him out of court.

Van Pelt said the medical records from Campbell's visit to the hospital do not show any psychological complaints.

"The Defendant's absence from the second day of trial," Van Pelt wrote, "was not justified or reasonable based upon the reported physical or mental diagnoses outlined by the Cornerstone Medical Center emergency department. Defendant's absence from the second of trial was a deliberate attempt to delay the proceedings."

Campbell has until July 8 to decide whether to appeal the ruling. Wright said his family has not made a decision.

In an attempt to understand Campbell's state of mind at the time of the trial, Wright said, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities forensic psychologist Dr. Sam Perri evaluated him. But Van Pelt said Perri concluded Campbell understood the charges against him and was able to work with his attorney at the time.

Wright questioned how well Perri could evaluate Campbell's mental state months after the trial.

"He's looking backwards," Wright said.

Wright argued that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia caused Campbell to have a panic attack during his trial, forcing him to leave court. He said his client did not show signs of schizophrenia before the trial. But in the weeks after the shooting, Wright said, Campbell hallucinated and seemed delusional.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.