Campos seeks to change attorney just before trial is set to begin

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Manuel Campos is led into the courtroom for a hearing Wednesday. He has requested to change his attorney just two weeks before his trial is scheduled to begin.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Nearly two years after the shooting of Gary Don Hess, the victims will possibly have to wait even longer for adjudication if defendant Manuel Ramon Campos’ request to change his defense attorney just two weeks before the scheduled start of the trial is approved. 

Campos, 38, is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault resulting in disfigurement, two counts of assault, discharging a firearm at a residence, three counts of disorderedly conduct with a weapon, three counts of endangerment, and possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor. 

Campos allegedly shot Hess in his neck with buckshot when he fired a shotgun through the door of Hess’ residence the evening of Dec. 18, 2017. Campos’ accomplice, Robert Lee Lafler, 36, was sentenced in April 2018 to seven years in prison to be followed up by four years of probation for his involvement in the incident. Lafler took a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to misconduct involving weapons – a Class-4 Felony, and an amended charge of discharging a firearm at a residential structure – a Class-2 Felony.   

According to police reports, Lafler was with Campos as they approached the residence in the 900 block of State Route 366 (Swift Trail) with a handgun and a shotgun. Surveillance footage at the residence allegedly shows Campos with a shotgun just before it fired through the door. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Robert Lee Lafler took a plea agreement and was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the shooting of Gary Hess in December 2017.

Hess was flown to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, where he was treated and eventually released. 

Lafler and Campos evaded officers that night but were not on the lam for long.

Lafler was captured Dec. 19, 2017, at an apartment complex in Safford, and Campos was arrested at his mother’s residence Dec. 21, 2017. Campos posted a $25,000 bond and was released from jail but was taken back into custody in April after being charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

On Wednesday, Campos’ court-appointed attorney, Richard Luff, of Tucson, argued for a change of venue for the trial for a second time and for the second time Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis Ragland denied the request. Luff and Cochise County Deputy County Attorney Daniel Akers, who is prosecuting the case due to a conflict with the Graham County Attorney’s Office, both appeared telephonically while Campos was transported from the jail to court for the hearing. 

“This thing is already set for trial,” Judge Ragland said. “We’ve already sent out jury notices. We’ve already rearranged the courtrooms to make this happen, so as far as I’m concerned it’s staying here.”

Luff also alluded that the parties had not come to a plea agreement because Luff wanted Campos’ sentence to run concurrently with his 12-year sentence for being a prohibited possession of a deadly weapon. Judge Ragland confirmed that he would not accept any such plea deal that did not include a sentence of seven years consecutive to his current sentence since that was what his co-defendant received.   

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

After being denied a change of venue, Luff then advised the court that Campos is interested in retaining Ivan Abrams, of Tucson, as his attorney and no longer be represented by Luff. Abrams also appeared telephonically and said if Judge Ragland allowed him to take over he couldn’t be ready for trial at the scheduled dates of Nov. 18 – 22. Judge Ragland advised that if the trial was continued again, much to the chagrin of the victims according to the Victim’s Witness, it would not be able to take place until February or March of 2020. 

Luff advised that he would visit with Campos on Thursday and go over his options. Judge Ragland then set another hearing for Friday, Nov. 8 at 4 p.m. to discuss how the trial will move forward, who will be representing Campos, and if the trial will be continued to a later date than currently scheduled. 

“I will contemplate whether or not to allow a continuance if Mr. Abrams is actually coming on,” Judge Ragland said. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Manuel Campos arrives at court.

Judge Ragland also warned that he would likely not accept a plea on the day of the trial.

“I also want to make it clear that I’m going to be very disinclined to accept a plea the day of trial if we’ve already got a jury in and everything else,” Judge Ragland said. “So, if this thing is going to settle, I suggest you do it before then.”

Campos also has another upcoming scheduled trial regarding a Jan. 31 incident in which Campos allegedly broke into a residence at 3589 W. Main St. in Thatcher and demanded money from the resident while brandishing a shotgun. When the victim responded she didn’t have any money, Campos allegedly fired one shot into the floor next to the victim’s leg and reportedly told her “the next one is for you (expletive deleted)” and then ran out the back door. 

That case against Campos has been mired in drama, including the Graham County Clerk of the Superior Court, Cindy Woodman, being found to have violated evidence protocol by demanding the Thatcher Police retake the evidence from courthouse storage and a question of whether a juror from the original trial lied about not knowing Campos.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, Campos was sentenced to 12 years in prison for possession of a deadly weapon regarding the shotgun he allegedly used in the Jan. 31 incident. He is represented by attorneys Daisy Flores and Dennis McCarthy in that case, for now. The second half of the trial includes charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, two counts of burglary, and disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon.   

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