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Murderer Pleads With Jury: You Spared Partner, so Spare Me

July 28, 1987|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

Donald P. DiMascio's lawyers argued to jurors Monday that it's unfair to give him a death sentence for the murder of a 27-year-old Anaheim man, whose body was dropped from an airplane, because the pilot who hired him is serving only a 25-year sentence for the same crime.

"Is the person who did the killing any more culpable than the man who planned it?" defense attorney Clarence E. Haynes asked the jurors. "They sure seem like birds of a feather to me."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 29, 1987 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 4 Metro Desk 3 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
A headline in Tuesday's edition of The Times mistakenly gave the impression that the jury deciding whether to sentence Donald P. DiMascio to death on his murder conviction was the same jury that rejected a death sentence for Larry Cowell. Cowell was convicted of hiring DiMascio to strangle Scott Campbell and push his body out of an airplane near Santa Catalina Island in 1982. The DiMascio jury--which decided Tuesday to reject capital punishment and sentence the defendant to life without parole--is not the same panel as the one that sentenced Cowell to 25 years to life.

DiMascio, now 37, was convicted two weeks ago of first-degree murder in the killing of Scott Campbell, who was strangled to death, then tossed from a private airplane from about 2,000 feet somewhere beyond Santa Catalina Island on April 17, 1982.

The jurors began deliberations after closing arguments Monday to determine whether DiMascio should be given a death verdict or life without parole.

DiMascio's co-defendant, Larry Cowell, now 38, was given a sentence of 25 years to life at a separate trial.

Prosecutors had sought a death sentence for Cowell, saying he had planned Campbell's death either to get money or drugs. But Judge Donald A. McCartin in that case found Cowell's primary motive for killing was revenge, which is not a special circumstance warranting the death penalty under state law.

DiMascio's situation is different. DiMascio told undercover police agents that he killed Campbell because Cowell offered him $5,000. Because jurors found him guilty of murder for financial gain, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a second phase of the trial.

"What is the most morally bankrupt motive for killing another human being? For money," Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas M. Goethals said in closing arguments for the penalty phase of the trial.

The prosecutor quoted DiMascio's own words to undercover agents, tape-recorded without his knowledge: "I don't do this (killing someone) unless it's worth my while. . . . As long as I know it's worth my while, it don't bother me a bit."

Goethals pointed to DiMascio's previous criminal record, which included assault with a deadly weapon and two armed robberies. DiMascio served four years in prison on those offenses.

But defense attorney Haynes pointed to good things about DiMascio mentioned by his family. He conceded to jurors that "Donald DiMascio isn't any choirboy," but he pointed to more than 20 character witnesses who pleaded with jurors to spare DiMascio, including the defendant's parents, wife and two of his children.

"I don't think we can just ignore these people," said Haynes, who also noted: "The problem is that you can cannot kill the devil without also killing an angel."

The DiMascios were not the only family members in the courtroom.

Gary and Collene Campbell of San Juan Capistrano, whose own private investigation into their son's death led police finally to arrest Cowell and DiMascio four years ago, have been to every single criminal proceeding for both defendants.

Each year on the anniversary of Scott Campbell's death, they take a small motorboat to the waters past Catalina and toss out flowers in his memory.

Just before Haynes' closing argument, Collene Campbell said, "I really don't want to go in there and hear him talk about my son. But I've got to."

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