Case # 30-2018-00985610-CU-WM- CJC

Date: April 17, 2018


SANTA ANA, Calif. – A hearing date was set today on a civil lawsuit filed last week by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) against the Board of Parole Hearings (the Board) on behalf of the People of the State of California and crime victim Collene Campbell. The OCDA is seeking injunctive relief against the Board for violating Marsy’s Law by allowing administrative staff to advance the parole hearing date, without new evidence, for inmate Lawrence Rayborn Cowell, who was convicted in 1983 of murdering 27-year-old Scott Campbell by throwing him out of an airplane into the ocean so he could steal the victim’s sports car. Cowell is currently serving a life term in state prison and was found to be unsuitable for parole at his most recent hearing on Oct. 25, 2016. The OCDA’s complaint alleges the Board unlawfully advanced the date of Cowell’s parole hearing by one year to May 23, 2018, and failed to adequately notify the victim’s mother, Collene Campbell, of the new hearing date in violation of Marsy’s Law.

A hearing for this case has been scheduled on May 16, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. in Department C-25 of Central Justice Center before the Honorable Sheila Fell.

Quote by Collene Campbell

Campbell remarked, “It is tremendously painful to endure the murder of a deeply loved family member. The agony is expanded by the current California parole hearings and the inequities and constant changes which the victim’s loved ones are forced to endure.” She continued, “Additional problems are caused for the victim’s family as time and changes of a hearing are made with absolutely no regard for the victim’s family’s schedule, travel and lodging. Frequently, after the victim’s family makes the long trip and spends a sleepless night at the hearing, the parole board might inform you that the hearing has been cancelled. Like many other victims we have personally lived through this inconsiderate treatment by the California Parole Board, which is very demeaning to the victim’s family.”

Quote by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas

“These so called ‘administrative reviews’ are just fancy euphemisms to facilitate ‘get out of jail free’ cards for dangerous murderers and other inmates in prison for life cases.” He continued, “Marsy’s Law was overwhelmingly enacted by the People of California to prevent this type of game playing with crime victims who are trying to prevent the defendant from harming other families the way they have been hurt.  Every time there is a parole review date, these families pay tremendously, not just in expenses to go to the prison to oppose, but they pay tremendously emotionally and psychologically. The power to set new dates, if there is new information supporting rehabilitation, should be made by the appointed members of the Board of Parole Hearings who are accountable to the Governor that appointed him or her and the Governor who must be accountable to the People.  Such great power to decide the fate of crime victims and the safety of the public should not be at the whim of an administrative bureaucrat.”

Quote by Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III, Founder of Marsy’s Law For All

“We’re not just dealing with law, we’re dealing with constitutional rights. The reason why Marsy’s Law is important, and the reason why its constitutionality is important, is because now for the first time we can balance that right of a criminal to have a quality of life, not being overcrowded, against the quality of life of a victim to have certain certainty in the sentence of this criminal, and also to not have to re-live this crime every year or every two years.” He continued, “There is a certain minimum beneath which you should not have to revisit this crime, and that is established within the constitution at three years. What’s going on right now in this state is they’re undermining the constitutional rights that we as citizens of California have. It’s vitally important if there is to be any rule of law, that there needs to be some injunctive relief and that we need to ensure that our state follows, and does not infringe on the constitutional rights that we have as crime victims.”

Murder of Scott Campbell

  • On April 17, 1982, Cowell, then 33, and co-defendant Donald P. DiMascio, then 32, conspired to murder Cowell’s lifelong friend, Scott Campbell for financial gain. While out of custody on bail for a separate crime, Cowell rented an airplane and hired ex-convict DiMascio to murder Scott Campbell.
  • Cowell lured Scott Campbell onboard under the pretense of completing his in-flight training to become a pilot and told the victim DiMascio was his flight instructor. Once onboard, DiMascio assaulted and strangled Scott Campbell to death while Cowell piloted the plane. Cowell and DiMascio smashed the victim’s face before throwing it from the airplane near Catalina Island to ensure the body would never be recovered.
  • Later that day, Scott Campbell’s parents reported their son missing to the Anaheim Police Department. Upon further investigation by police, Cowell was arrested after being found in possession of Scott Campbell’s Pantera Sports car, which Cowell was stripping and selling for parts.
  • On Dec. 9, 1985, a jury convicted Cowell of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery of Scott Campbell, and sentencing enhancements. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life in state prison and an additional six years for the sentencing enhancements. In 1988, the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction on the grounds that evidence had been improperly admitted and ordered a new trial.
  • On Dec. 20, 1989, a new jury convicted Cowell on all counts and sentencing enhancement allegations. On Jan. 26, 1990, he was again sentenced to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life in state prison with an additional six years for the sentencing enhancements.

Inmate Cowell’s Parole Hearing on Oct. 25, 2016

  • On Oct. 25, 2016, the Board conducted a hearing to determine whether Cowell was suitable for release on parole. OCDA Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy and then-Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray appeared with the victim’s parents, Collene and Gary Campbell, to argue against the release of Cowell on parole. The presiding panel at inmate Cowell’s parole hearing on Oct. 25, 2016, consisted of one commissioner of the Board and one deputy commissioner. 
  • At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel made findings by weighing the considerations provided in the California Code of Regulations, Title 15.  The Board determined inmate Cowell was not suitable for parole and the presiding commissioner set forth the following findings on the record:
  • Cowell “does pose a threat to public safety if released from prison and is therefore not suitable for parole.”
  • Cowell admitted that the murder of Scott Campbell was a planned murder and was not motivated by the simple intent to rob the victim of money.
  • Cowell is physically and cognitively capable of again committing murder, if he wished to do so.
  • Positive aspects of Cowell’s case were “outweighed by other circumstances which tend to show unsuitability and which suggest that, if released at this time, Cowell would pose an unreasonable threat to public safety.”
  • The murder was committed out of greed, anger may have been an issue, Cowell had a criminal history prior to the murder, and he was on a form of conditional release at the time of the murder.
  • Cowell must demonstrate additional progress, in that the Board did not believe Cowell experienced remorse for the murder which he planned and committed.
  • Cowell’s behavior in writing a letter to the executive officer of the Board showed that he had a sense of entitlement.
  • Cowell demonstrates a “desire to manipulate the system simply because he felt that he could. And that harkens back to some of the decision-making process that made him dangerous in the past. And we think it’s still there. And so even as an older guy, we believe that a guy – individual with the physical capabilities and certainly the mental acuity that he has – Mr. Cowell is a very bright, capable guy. And we think that if he were paroled at this time and if he were in circumstances where he felt that he could gain by harming others, that he might very well choose to do so.”
  • Cowell still has the potential to harm others for his personal gain. 
  • The presiding commissioner further stated:  “But could Mr. Cowell find himself in a situation where he could benefit significantly if were willing to cause another to be harmed, perhaps not at his own hand, but at the hand of someone else, he could be dangerous. And we think some of those elements that made him dangerous in the past are still present today. And he has recently demonstrated them.  And therefore, we find him not suitable for parole today.”
  • At the conclusion of the hearing on Oct. 25, 2016, the Board denied the application for parole. By imposing a three-year denial period, the Board determined it would not reconsider Cowell’s suitability for parole until October 2019.
  • Inmate Cowell was informed at the October 2016 hearing that he could request an earlier hearing date if he could show further incarceration was not needed; he has not petitioned the Board to advance his hearing date.

The Board’s Unlawful Decision to Advance Inmate Cowell’s Parole Hearing

  • On Sept. 27, 2017, less than a year after the Board found Cowell to be unsuitable for parole, the Board sent a letter to Plaintiff Campbell stating in part, “This letter is to inform you [the Board] will conduct an administrative review pursuant to Penal Code section 3041.5(b)(4).  During this review, the Board will consider advancing the above-referenced inmate’s next parole consideration hearing to an earlier date.”
  • Collene Campbell and her late husband Gary Campbell submitted a joint letter to the Board strongly objecting to the Board’s plan to advance the hearing date and informing the Board the statutory requirements for the advancement of the hearing had not been met.
  • On Nov. 13, 2017, an administrative employee of the Board made the decision to advance Cowell’s parole hearing date by over a year and failed to notify the victim’s family of the advanced date of May 23, 2018.

OCDA’s Complaint Against the Board

  • The OCDA contends the Board’s practice of allowing employees to conduct “administrative reviews” and advance parole hearing dates is unlawful and in violation of several Penal Codes set forth by Marsy’s Law.
  • In the “administrative review” process, administrative employees of the Board, who cannot lawfully exercise the powers of the Board, re-examine the cases of all life-term inmates who have received three-year denials of parole and who have not petitioned the Board to have their hearings advanced. Employees who perform administrative reviews can overrule the three-year denial imposed upon the inmate by the Board and advance the hearing to a much earlier date.

The complaint filed by the OCDA alleges:

  • The Board’s administrative staff possess no statutory authority to advance the hearing dates for life prisoners to a date earlier than that set by the Board.
  • The Board’s decision to advance Cowell’s hearing date is unlawful and in violation of Penal Code §3041.5(b)(4) because the criteria used by the Board in the administrative review process ignores the requirement that the Board may only use its discretion to advance a parole hearing date when:

There is evidence of a change of circumstances or new information which establishes a reasonable likelihood that consideration of the public and;

The victim’s safety does not require the additional period of incarceration of the inmate.

Ultimately, if the Board is allowed to proceed with the hearing as advanced, it may result in Cowell, a convicted murderer, receiving a grant of parole at a hearing which was unlawfully convened. This would result in irreparable harm to the victim’s family and have devastating consequences for public safety. As such, the OCDA is seeking a preliminary injunction to restrain the Board from proceeding with Cowell’s unlawfully advanced hearing on May 23, 2018.