ST. LOUIS — Within the span of a 10-minute hearing Thursday, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office went from asking a judge for more time before agreeing to set a new trial date for a man convicted of first-degree murder to dropping the case against him all together.
Lamont Cambell was convicted of the 2011 murder of Leonard Gregory III during a second trial in 2016. He’s been in prison ever since.
He appealed his conviction in 2019, and Judge Timothy Boyer ruled in December Cambell had ineffective counsel and should be granted a new trial – a decision the victim’s family said Gardner’s office didn’t tell them about.
On Thursday, Boyer scheduled a hearing to set a new trial date.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Marvin Teer asked Boyer if he could have until the end of the day to let the judge know how prosecutors wanted to proceed with the case after Boyer proposed a new trial date for April.
Cambell’s public defender, Valeria Leftwich, then responded to Boyer.
“This has taken a little bit of a U-turn, something was supposed to be filed today,” Leftwich said.
Boyer then set a new trial date for April, telling Teer prosecutors have had enough time to get to know the evidence in the case and three months was plenty of time to prepare for a new trial. Teer left the courtroom to take a phone call, and moments after he returned, he announced the charges had been dismissed altogether.
Cambell walked out of the City Justice Center Thursday afternoon.
After Cambell's release, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office issued a statement that read, in part:
"The investigation must be restarted to hold the perpetrator accountable for the crime committed. In every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring that it carries out its duty to prosecute criminal cases in a manner that is fair and seeks justice on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis. At this time, we ask the general public to provide any information that will assist in the investigation of this crime."
Family is furious
The victim’s aunt, Christine Tierney, and only sibling, Regan Cabbabe, wept and exchanged some heated words with Teer, saying Cambell should be kept in prison until a new trial date can be set and scolded him for keeping them in the dark.
“I’m not convinced he did it and as far as I’m concerned, one day in jail is too many if he didn’t do it,” Teer told them.
The victim’s family also addressed the court saying Gardner met with them Wednesday afternoon telling them her office had no other option than to drop the charges against Cambell and turn the investigation back to the police department. They said there was no mention of setting a new trial date, and, because the December hearing was called a post-conviction relief hearing, prosecutors aren’t obligated to keep them informed about the proceedings.
The family said they only learned of Boyer’s decision to overturn the conviction because a reporter called them following the December hearing asking for their reaction to the news.
“We have been blindsided by all of this,” Tierney told the judge. “We want the right person in jail for this, but they didn’t tell us anything. They failed us. It wasn’t until we called and harassed them that they finally agreed to meet with us less than 24 hours before this hearing. A family shouldn’t have to go through this.”
“I’m sorry for what has happened,” Boyer said.
Problems with the case
Gregory was sitting inside his car in the 2800 block of Chariton Street in 2011 when Gregory’s family said Cambell, then 17, tried to rob him at gunpoint.
Gregory is the son of a retired St. Louis police sergeant.
“He was shot in the arm, and then panicked and tried to drive away, but crashed about a block away and Lamont ran up on him and shot him in the head,” Cababbe said.
Cambell’s first trial ended in a hung jury, with 11 in favor of conviction and one holdout, Cababbe said.
In 2016, following a second trial in which a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, Circuit Judge Phillip Heagney gave Cambell a life sentence with eligibility for parole, which in Missouri, is calculated at 30 years.
Cambell’s attorney during his second trial was Mary Fox, former head of the city’s public defender’s office. She’s now head of the Missouri Public Defender's Office.
“In the real world, if someone doesn’t do their job, they get fired,” Tierney said.
Cambell’s defense attorneys also said the lead homicide detective on the case had an affair with one of the witnesses who identified Cambell as the killer.
That witness was married at the time. The former husband and wife identified Cambell as the killer to police, and the victim's family said the affair began after the couple identified Cambell as the killer.
Sarah Hyatt, the witness, also argued that Cambell's defense timeline was incorrect and that there was no communication between she and her the detective before the trial.
"I'm very disappointed in the legal system and how they are using me as a scapegoat in putting a murderer back on the streets," Hyatt said.
The woman, who told 5 On Your Side she lived where the shooting happened, stood firm on her account when she testified and that she was heartbroken along with Gregory's family.
She said during the first trial, Cambell jumped out of his chair to run to her when she identified him in court, which prompted the guards to pull him back.
"I will never forget those eyes. I know it is him. It is not something that I asked to see. It is devastating. I didn't want to see it but I did. I had to testify. I had to do what was right," Hyatt continued.
A Response from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office
Based upon court findings and the judge’s extraordinary ruling that vacated the conviction and sentence of Lamont Darnell Campbell, the Circuit Attorney’s Office has dismissed the underlying case against Mr. Campbell.
The investigation must be restarted to hold the perpetrator accountable for the crime committed. In every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring that it carries out its duty to prosecute criminal cases in a manner that is fair and seeks justice on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis. At this time, we ask the general public to provide any information that will assist in the investigation of this crime.