Judge: Deadly Building Collapse Trial to Focus on Contractor

A judge has told a defense attorney for a demolition contractor facing charges in a deadly Philadelphia building collapse that the trial will not be about others such as the city or its officials.

Demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, 51, faces third-degree murder charges in the June 2013 collapse of a four-story building wall onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store that killed six people and injured a dozen others.

Defense attorney William Hobson has argued that other people bear responsibility for the collapse and has sought to call as witnesses the mayor and city licensing and inspection employees, among others.

Ed Cameron, assistant chief of the district attorney's homicide Unit, said Hobson wants to put others "on trial" and that jurors must only focus on whether Campbell acted in a criminally reckless manner.

"What's relevant here is what caused the collapse," Cameron said. "The collapse was caused because the building was taken down in an unsafe manner."

Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson told Hobson on Friday that he would not be allowed to "put on trial other entities" and the focus must be limited to Campbell's state of mind in the days leading up to the collapse.

"The fact other people could be criminally or civilly culpable is not a defense" for Campbell, the judge said during a motions hearing. Post-collapse lawsuits, reports, and government agency changes would be irrelevant, he said, and "any investigation done afterward would not be admissible."

An investigating grand jury brought charges in the collapse only against Campbell and heavy equipment operator Sean Benschop, 44, who pleaded guilty last week to involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, conspiracy and causing a catastrophe. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 10 to 20 years when he is sentenced in October.

After Benschop's plea, Hobson vowed to fight the charges against his client and said there were "many, many parties much higher on the economic food chain and the political power chain and the money chain" who were not charged.

A city building inspector who once inspected the site killed himself days after the collapse. Many of the collapse victims and their families have filed civil lawsuits against the defendants, the building owner, the Salvation Army and others.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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