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Second Man Convicted in Sea Dumping Death, May Get Death Penalty

July 16, 1987|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

The second defendant accused of killing a young Anaheim man and throwing his body from a private airplane near Santa Catalina Island five years ago was convicted of murder for financial gain Wednesday, which could mean a death sentence.

After the verdict was read, Donald P. DiMascio, 37, who has been free on $250,000 bail, was arrested without bail. His co-defendant, Lawrence R. Cowell, 38, is already serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison in the killing of Scott Campbell.

The small Santa Ana courtroom was crowded Wednesday with friends of the victim's parents, Gary and Collene Campbell of San Juan Capistrano, whose private investigation into their son's disappearance led to the two men's arrests in March, 1983. The Campbells clutched hands and held on to their grown daughter, Shelly, as they awaited the verdict.

They wept at word of the conviction, and Collene Campbell later said, "It's been a long haul . . . but justice has been done--finally."

DiMascio, a former convict from El Monte, now faces the penalty phase of his trial, beginning Wednesday, in which the same panel of jurors will choose between a death sentence or life without possibility of parole.

Prosecutors said while Cowell piloted the plane, DiMascio strangled 27-year-old Scott Campbell on April 17, 1982, as the aircraft approached Santa Catalina. Campbell's body was then dropped into the sea from an altitude of 2,000 feet, about a mile or so past the island.

Both Cowell and DiMascio readily admitted their involvement in separate meetings with people they thought were drug contacts of Campbell's, unaware they were undercover police officers and an informant who were taping their conversations on March 11 and 12, 1983.

But both alleged that they made up statements about killing Campbell only because they thought they were dealing with Mafia figures from the East and thus gave them answers they thought the men wanted to hear.

DiMascio's attorneys fought hard to keep the jury from hearing the tape of his conversations with the undercover agents. But Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald ruled after a hearing that DiMascio's rights had not been violated and that he had made the admissions freely.

DiMascio, dressed in a three-piece suit, turned red faced upon hearing the jury's verdict. But he showed no other emotion and quietly emptied his pockets of personal effects to give to his brother before deputy marshals led him away.

He faces a stiffer sentence than Cowell, not because prosecutors say he was the actual killer, but because he was charged with committing murder for financial gain, a capital offense under state law.

DiMascio told undercover agents that Cowell had offered him $5,000 to kill Campbell.

Prosecutors had sought a death sentence against Cowell for robbing Campbell during the plane ride. But at Cowell's non-jury trial, Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin rejected that allegation. McCartin ruled that the evidence showed that the two men wanted revenge against Campbell because of troubles over a previous drug deal. The robbery, the judge said, was an afterthought.

The drug issue has remained a sore point with the Campbell family. Scott Campbell had told his parents that he was on his way to North Dakota on computer-related business the day he disappeared. Actually, he was on his way there to sell a pound of cocaine to a man named Greg Fox. Campbell was unaware that Fox was a federal drug informant.

Although Cowell and DiMascio both said Campbell had "burned" them in previous drug deals, the Campbells believe their son was making his first venture into the drug trade.

Campbell's parents, frustrated that the police would not do anything about their son's disappearance, had gone from airport to airport searching for information about him. Gary Campbell found his son's car parked at Fullerton Municipal Airport.

Anaheim police got involved after the Campbells found that Cowell had lied about being with their son that morning.

Anaheim police came up with the scheme to get Fox of North Dakota to come to Orange County. Fox then pretended to Cowell that he had to find out what happened to Campbell to protect "his people." In a taped conversation with Fox on March 11, 1983, Cowell implicated DiMascio.

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