An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday issued an injunction blocking state parole board officials from moving up a parole hearing for a prisoner convicted of throwing a man to his death from a plane in 1982.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Martha K. Gooding shot down most of the District Attorney’s Office’s arguments against the Board of Parole Hearings from moving up the hearing for Lawrence Rayborn Cowell by more than a year, but Gooding said parole officials failed to show that delegating the authority to move up the parole hearing to staff was properly done.
Orange County prosecutors argued that nothing changed in Cowell’s case since he was last denied parole for three years in October 2016, but Gooding disagreed. The judge noted that Cowell has not been disciplined and that he has participated in rehabilitation efforts such as Alcoholics Anonymous, peer counseling and a “personal accountability” program.
Gooding also brushed aside prosecutors’ contention that parole officials failed to take into account the “views and interests of the victims in this case,” because it was shown that a letter from the victim’s family was read by the official who approved the advancement of the parole hearing.
Gooding, however, ruled that the prosecutors are likely to prevail at trial on their argument that the official who moved up the parole hearing was not properly delegated the authority to do so.
“Today’s injunction gives hope to victims and reminds them the Board of Parole Hearings is not the final authority when it comes to parole proceedings,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. “There is a process in place in which victims’ rights are constitutionally preserved and protected, even in death through the support of their loved ones and today, the Parole Board was reminded of that process.”
Rackauckas and Colleen Campbell, a longtime victims’ rights advocate and former San Juan Capistrano mayor, filed the lawsuit in April. Cowell killed Campbell’s 27-year-old son.
“What happens to victims is very unfair,” Campbell said in an April news conference as she described how difficult it is to go to more frequent parole hearings.
Campbell was spurred to activism by her son’s murder and the 1988 slayings of her brother, race car legend Mickey Thompson, and his wife Trudy.
“We’re hurting anyway, and we’re trusting the justice system and the parole board to help us get through the stress, but more often than not those parole hearings are changed or canceled after you’ve driven the distance,” she said. “It needs to be changed … It’s very unfair and demeaning to a family that’s already hurting.”
Campbell, who’s in her 80s, added that with the death last fall of her husband, Gary, it is more of a hardship to get to the parole hearings that she feels compelled to attend to advocate on behalf of their son.
Cowell was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on Jan. 26, 1990. He and co-defendant Donald P. DiMascio, who was convicted in a separate trial, conspired to kill Scott Campbell for money on April 17, 1982. Cowell rented an airplane and hired DiMascio to kill the victim, who got on the plane thinking he was completing pilot training with DiMascio as his instructor.
DiMascio beat and strangled Campbell with Cowell behind the controls of the plane. Both men smashed in Campbell’s face and hurled his body into the ocean near Catalina Island, hoping the bloodied face would draw sharks and the victim would never be found, prosecutors said.
Campbell’s worried parents called Anaheim police later in the day, and Cowell, who had Campbell’s Pantera sports car, which was being stripped for parts to be sold, was later arrested.
Cowell was out on bail awaiting trial for a drunken driving crash that killed his passenger, Robert Leon Ferguson, in July 1980, when he killed Campbell, whose body was never recovered, prosecutors said. Cowell was convicted of vehicular manslaughter for Ferguson’s death and sentenced to six months in jail in August 1982.
While out on bail in the Campbell murder, Cowell attacked his father and bit off part of his mother’s finger when she tried to break it up, prosecutors said.
After Cowell’s first conviction in Campbell’s murder was overturned on appeal, he was awaiting a new trial when he was involved in another drunken driving crash, this time on the water, on June 10, 1989, on the Colorado River.
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