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Parole denied for man who threw victim from plane

BLYTHE, Calif. (AP) — After an emotional five-hour hearing, a state panel denied parole Tuesday for a Southern California man convicted of murdering his childhood friend for money then throwing his body out of an airplane into the Pacific Ocean.

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy, who argued against Lawrence Cowell’s release, said the parents of Scott Campbell, who died nearly 30 years ago, spoke for more than an hour of the grief they have endured from their son’s murder.

Collene and Gary Campbell became victims’ rights activists in the wake of the killing. Collene Campbell, a former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, is also the sister of murdered race car legend Mickey Thompson and was active in pressing for the trial of the man belatedly convicted of killing him.

The parole panel ruled that Cowell, 62, can apply for parole again in five years.

Collene Campbell, who traveled with her husband to the remote Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, near the Arizona border, said in a telephone interview that the panel’s decision would keep others safe.

“It’s not about bringing Scotty back,” she said of her son, who was 27 when he died. “We can’t do that. But it’s about protecting life. Now I know that for five years people will be safe from Cowell.”

Murphy said Cowell testified at the parole hearing, saying he took responsibility for the death of Scott Campbell but did not admit that he killed him.

A co-defendant, Donald Di Mascio, was convicted of murder and given life without parole. Cowell is serving two terms of 25 years to life.

Murphy told the parole panel “there’s no doubt” that if Cowell was released he would commit a crime again.

“Every single time he gets out, somebody gets hurt,” Murphy said in an interview after the hearing.

Murphy described the grisly crime to the parole board, saying Cowell took his childhood friend up in a Cessna in 1982 and had an accomplice assault and strangle him while Cowell piloted the plane. The men then battered his face to draw sharks and threw the body from the aircraft near Catalina Island. Campbell’s body was never found.

Cowell maintains that the crime was not premeditated and that DiMascio was acting in self-defense after Campbell pulled a gun.

Prosecutors said the motive for the killing was money.

“Cowell callously lured his trusting friend into a trap to gain a few bucks and brutally murdered him,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. “Instead of accepting responsibility for what he did and showing remorse, Cowell has continued to lie, shift the blame to others and assault innocent people each time he was briefly set free.”

Prosecutors said Cowell was out on bail while awaiting trial for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed his passenger when he killed Campbell. While he was out on bail in 1983 awaiting the murder trial, he assaulted his father and bit off his mother’s finger when she tried to intervene.

He was convicted in 1985 of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and robbery. An appeals court overturned his conviction three years later on the grounds that evidence had been improperly admitted and ordered a new trial.

Cowell was out on bail again while awaiting the new trial, and in 1989 crashed a powerboat on the Colorado River while under the influence of alcohol.

Collene Campbell said she was pleased if her words helped to keep Cowell behind bars.

“I’m sure Scotty is looking down saying, ’Thank you, Mom and Dad.”

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