Guilty! Campos takes a plea in Hess shooting case

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Manuel Ramon Campos is escorted back to jail after his change of plea hearing. Campos pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm at a residential structure in the December 2017 Gary Hess shooting and will be sentenced to seven years in prison to be served after he completes his 12-year sentence for possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor in another shooting case.

All other counts in both Hess and Chapman cases to be dismissed

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com 

SAFFORD – After nearly two years and just days before the scheduled start of the trial, the victims of Manuel Ramon Campos, 38, in the Dec. 18, 2017 shooting of Gary Don Hess can breathe a little easier. A calm, demure, and polite Campos appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis Ragland on Thursday. While flanked by his appointed attorney, Richard Luff, of Tucson, Campos pleaded guilty to one count of discharging a firearm at a residential structure – a Class-2 Felony. Cochise County Deputy County Attorney Daniel Akers was the special prosecutor on both the Hess trial and the Daniella trial, involving an alleged home invasion in Thatcher by Campos on Jan. 31.   

According to the plea agreement, Campos will receive a stipulated sentence of seven years in prison to be served following the 12 years he was already sentenced to serve regarding the first part of his Daniella Chapman trial – which he was found guilty by a jury of possession of a deadly weapon for having a shotgun during his alleged crimes on Jan. 31 at Chapman’s residence. That means he will be sentenced to a total of 19 years in prison on the two cases.  

Campos’ co-defendant in the Hess case, Robert Lee Lafler, 36, was sentenced in April 2018 to seven years in prison to be followed up by four years of probation after he 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. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Manuel Ramon Campos winks to the camera as he is being escorted from the courtroom.

However, the plea also stipulates that all other charges in both the Hess and Chapman cases will be dismissed once Campos is sentenced. That means charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault resulting in disfigurement, two counts of assault, three counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon, three counts of endangerment, and prohibited possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor will be dismissed in the Hess case alone, and charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, two counts of burglary, and disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon will be dismissed in the Chapman case, which was scheduled to begin trial Dec. 4.

When asked to give a factual basis for the plea, Luff told the court that Campos did indeed fire a shotgun into the door of the residence on Dec. 18, 2017. When Judge Ragland asked Campos if that was true, Campos replied, “yes, your honor.” 

Hess was hit with birdshot to his head/neck area and had to be flown to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson for treatment. According to another victim, Hess still suffers from ailments related to the shooting. 

When asked if he had a sound mind regarding the plea and if he was thinking with a  clear head Campos replied, “clear as a bell.”

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

Due to both attorneys not having the credit for time served on hand already in custody on hand, formal sentencing was delayed until Monday. The jury that was scheduled to appear Monday was released.

There will still be a restitution hearing to determine how much Campos will have to pay to the victims, which has already been reported as $650 for the door and nearly $143,500 in medical costs to Hess.   

After the hearing, Luff expressed his pleasure with the plea. 

“It’s a smokin’ deal,” he said. 

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