NEWS- Camblos comments: Controversy continues
Following the August 16 acquittal of a 13-year-old boy charged with conspiring to blow up two high schools, local radio waves and the blogosphere blazed with criticism of the Albemarle police and the commonwealth's attorney's office.
Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos responded August 25 on WINA's morning show. But rather than quelling critics, his mention that the "ringleader" of the alleged plot was born on April 20, the 100th anniversary of Hitler's birthday, as well as the anniversary of Columbine, has fueled even more blog entries. "We took that very, very seriously," Camblos told listeners.
Within hours, cvillenews.com posted a story headlined, "Camblos: If the birthday fits, you must convict." The Hook's own blog noted "the Hitler Connection," and Coy Barefoot played the Hitler clip on his WINA afternoon show, "Charlottesville...Right Now." (Podcasts of the interview are available on cvillenews.com, the WINA website, and cvillepodcast.com.)
The next day, an astrologer took a reading for Camblos' own December 29 birth date, and the result isn't pretty. As related on Cvillenews.com, Camblos' special day is one upon which 2004's deadly tsunami, the Wounded Knee massacre, and the slaying of Thomas [a] Beckett all took place.
"When he got to the point on the anniversary of Hitler's birthday, my jaw was literally hanging open," says Waldo Jaquith, the blogger behind cvillenews.com. "He starts down that path. Was it a mistake?"
"We didn't prosecute because he was born on that day," clarifies Camblos. "It was the totality of the evidence."
As for the Internet buzz that one can be prosecuted in Albemarle for having the wrong birthday, the prosecutor says, "Comments like that don't deserve a response."
Camblos points out that juvenile court judge Susan Whitlock delivered guilty verdicts in all four youths' cases– although one youth was found not guilty on appeal August 16, and at least two other verdicts have already been voided because they've been appealed to Circuit Court.
Even before Camblos' appearance on the morning show, Jaquith had published Camblos' "Greatest Hits," a listing of controversial cases, such as one in 1998 in which 19-year-old UVA student Sarah Roth lost control of her car on Route 29 and caused an accident that killed Lois Deane and her two young granddaughters. The list also included the case of former Albemarle Deputy Stephen R. Shifflett, who allegedly shot himself and claimed a black man had done it.
Neither case was prosecuted by the commonwealth's attorney, and Camblos defends those decisions. "Every year there are cases we decide not to prosecute," he notes.
Roth explained that she lost control of her car when a bee caused her to panic. "There was this huge bee still in the car," remembers Camblos. While sympathizing with the Deane family's loss, "As soon as I saw that, I said I'm not going to prosecute. Maybe we'd get a failure to control the car, maybe a $25 fine."
As for the Shifflett case, "We went as far as we could with that," says Camblos.
Will he appear on Barefoot's afternoon show, on which many callers have voiced their concerns? "I've already been on the morning show," answers Camblos.
"I understand that as commonwealth's attorney you're a lightning rod," he continues. "There are good days and bad days, and I just do my job. What was bothering me were the cheap shots from people in the media who don't have the facts."
The lack of information about the evidence in the cases announced at a February 3 press conference, and the subsequent closed hearings in juvenile court because two of the defendants were under 14 kept the case in the media spotlight. "It was a closed hearing, period," declared Camblos on WINA. "It couldn't be talked about."
Camblos called the case "a conspiracy caught in its very early stages," and he ridiculed suggestions that police should have wiretapped the teens for more evidence, calling the idea "really absurd."
"It's not the real world," said Camblos. "If you get evidence of a crime, you stop it right there. The police didn't want to miss someone who said, ‘I'm going to go down in flames for my compatriots.'"
Not all feedback has been negative. Camblos says he's gotten positive responses from people who were glad someone had answered critics.
"He's done a great job," praises Albemarle Republican Party chair Keith Drake. "In this case, the fact that a Columbine-like tragedy was averted by law enforcement– this is about as far from run-of-the-mill as you can get. It was sniffed out and then successfully prosecuted."
The same week Camblos was being castigated by what some wags call the "smoke bomb" case, he was lauded by animal lovers for his successful August 22 prosecution of luxury-car dealer George Seymour, who earned 10 days in jail for shooting a neighbor's pet cat.
"We found Mr. Camblos responsive to our calls so we could keep our callers informed," says SPCA director Susanne Kogut. "We were pleased with the prosecution; we're pleased with the result."
Camblos demonstrates no regrets in the bomb case. "I feel good about the way we've handled it," he says.
And there's consensus between him and the father of one of the teens on at least one topic: "I do agree the system works, because the jury acquitted my son," says the parent.
PULL QUOTE: "You've got to remember, the ringleader, who was one of the very first ones interviewed, he was born on Hitler's 100th anniversary birthday, and that April 20th birthday is also the anniversary of Columbine. We took this very, very seriously, as did the police department and as did the school system."– Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos, WINA August 25, 2006
Commonwealth Attorney Jim Camblos went on WINA August 25 to answer critics of the case involving alleged high school bombers, one of whom was acquitted August 16.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO