The attorney for a hit-and-run driver convicted of killing his girlfriend filed a lengthy rebuke of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman Thursday for making what she says were inflammatory post-verdict comments that maligned her client and were calculated to influence sentencing.
Public defender Nancy Laskaris’ three-page memo accused Freeman of making “several misleading comments to the media” soon after jurors found 21-year-old Michael L. Campbell guilty of criminal vehicular homicide in the September late-night crash in northeast Minneapolis that killed Ria Patel, 20, of Eden Prairie.
Freeman’s statements spoken to media and delivered in a news release included that Campbell “was probably drunk” and driving 65 miles per hour, and that Campbell also tried to pin blame for the crash on Patel giving him a kiss about the time of impact.
Laskaris alleged in her filing that Freeman’s “comments clearly were made with the intent to influence sentencing.” Freeman said after the verdict that his office will seek from Judge Fred Karasov a sentence many months longer than what state sentencing guidelines recommend.
In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, Laskaris added that the county attorney “has once again made inappropriate and inflammatory statements to the media intended to influence the sentence of a defendant in an open case that he is prosecuting.”
And given that Freeman’s comments “have now been disseminated, it is my responsibility to respond so as not to allow my client ... to continue to be unfairly maligned in the media.”
Laskaris added that “not that the judge is going to be intentionally influenced” by Freeman’s comments come sentencing on April 5, but “he could be, potentially.”
Freeman’s office responded to the defense attorney’s allegations with a one-sentence statement: “We are not going to relitigate the trial, and nothing said by Mr. Freeman could in any way prejudice the defendant.”
Laskaris’ filing also reargued many points made against Campbell during the trial. The memo countered that there were witnesses who said Campbell was not drunk and that physical evidence shows he was traveling barely above the 30 mph speed limit.
She also challenged Freeman’s contention that Campbell tried to make members of Patel’s family believe she was still alive while he communicated with them after the crash. Rather, she said, he held out hope for many hours afterward that she had survived and called her cellphone several times wishing she would answer.
Freeman’s contention that Campbell fled to St. Michael, where his parents live, and “came up with a new story” in his day and a half as a fugitive also drew a rebuke from Laskaris. She said her client was despondent over the crash and tried three times while in the northwest suburb to kill himself. She said he was arrested while in his mother’s locked garage with a car engine running.
Laskaris will be retiring this summer after 33 years as a public defender in the county. She said that having just a few more months on the job, which includes reaching plea agreements with prosecutors, had nothing to do with her challenging Freeman so publicly and in the court record.
“Anyone who knows me would not doubt that,” she said. “I’m not afraid to say what I think.”