Campbell hearing for new trial ends

John Zick

A hearing that could lead to a new trial for murderer Shawn Campbell concluded Thursday, but a decision on the matter won’t come until later this month, at the earliest.

Campbell, 34, is seeking a new trial in the 2004 killing of Bath resident Rhonda Bilby. He pleaded guilty to murder in 2005 but later claimed he was tricked into doing so by an ineffective defense attorney.

Steuben County Judge Joseph Latham denied all Campbell’s post-plea appeals, but an appellate court earlier this year ordered Latham to hold a hearing on whether Campbell’s trial attorney, William Kelley, withheld evidence from his client.

The hearing began Sept. 7, but scheduling conflicts prevented it from continuing until Thursday. Kelley, Campbell, prosecutor Brooks Baker and several other witnesses testified.

At the heart of the matter is whether Kelley withheld letters from a state prison inmate to the Steuben County District Attorney’s Office. In a letter written before Bilby’s murder in September 2004, inmate Loral Huffman said he had information about a murder plot in Steuben County.

In the letter predating Bilby’s slaying, no specifics – like a target or potential perpetrator – were divulged, according to authorities. In correspondence following the homicide, Huffman indicates the plot targeted Bilby and involved people other than Campbell, according to authorities.

Campbell said he was unaware of the letters until after he pleaded guilty. He claims he wouldn’t have done so had he known of their existence.

Both Kelley and Baker say Campbell was aware of the letters before he pleaded guilty.

Despite the pre-homicide letters containing only vague information, Campbell’s current attorney, Terrence Baxter, believes Huffman is credible and has corroborating evidence from prosecutors throughout the state who have used Huffman as a witness in the past.

Latham will make a decision on the matter at a later date. Baxter said Latham could order a new trial if he rules in favor of Campbell, but Campbell’s appeal won’t end even if Latham rules against him. Campbell’s overall appeal based on ineffective counsel is still pending at the appellate level and will continue once Latham makes his decision.

In pleading guilty, Campbell, who once did handy work for the victim, said he struck Bilby in the head with a wrench. Police said Campbell had gone to Bilby’s house to burglarize it and was surprised when Bilby returned home from work.

Baker said DNA evidence links Campbell to the crime and that the murder weapon was hidden behind Campbell’s house – where Campbell told police it was located. Baxter said Thursday the forensic report indicates there is no DNA evidence linking Campbell to the killing.

Campbell claims Bilby’s husband, Rawlin Bilby, was involved in his wife’s death. Rawlin Bilby has denied the accusations and has since moved out of the country.

Campbell is serving 25 years to life at the Wende Correctional Facility east of Buffalo.