The Witnesses and their Stories
As mentioned in the overview article on this site, several eyewitnesses unexpectedly changed their account of the DiGuglielmo-Campbell shooting over time. For example, a cable TV lineman named Michael Dillon was originally listed by the defense as one of their witnesses based on his account immediately after the incident. Here's what Dillon told WNBC TV's reporter at the scene:
ANDREW GLASSMAN: Witness Michael Dillon says the driver was wrestled to the ground by four men, including the store owner, Richie DiGuglielmo, and his son, off-duty officer Richie, Jr. Then the driver went back to his car for this aluminum baseball bat and started swinging.
MICHAEL DILLON: [F]ull force swings hitting him at least in the legs and almost the head is pretty much what I saw. You could hear the smacks like a block away. That's how hard he hit him.
ANDREW GLASSMAN: Dillon says within ten seconds, the son ran into the store, then came out and shot the driver three times. The deceased is black, the four other men involved are white. New York City police officers came to the scene in Dobbs Ferry to investigate the role their officer played.
MICHAEL DILLON: You see your father getting beat with a bat, you gotta do something about it. So, its self-defense from what I saw.
However, during the trial a year later, asked whether he thought Richie DiGuglielmo had shot Charles Campbell in self-defense, Dillon answered, "After thinking about it, no." According to defense lawyers, Dillon only changed his story after police showed up at his job and told him his story conflicted with that of his supervisor, who had also witnessed the incident.
What's intruiging is that Dillon is just one of three eyewitnesses who mysterious changed their story over time--and after being reinterviewed by law enforcement agents. All three changed their story in the most significant way imaginable--180 degrees, really--in terms of the key sequence of events that led up to the moment of the shooting.
Dillon's first statement to police, just hours after the shooting, is consistent with what he told Channel 4:
"When the black male reached his car he opened the hatch back of this car and took out an aluminum bat. The black male then began to swing the bat wildly at the group of white males. While he was swinging the bat I then observed him striking the 60 to 65 year old male at least two to three times in the area of his left thigh and left knee. He struck him at full force and very hard. I could hear the smack from the intersection. I then noticed the younger male who I described run into the deli and returned about 10 seconds later at the most. He then ran up to the black male and when he reached 2 to 3 feet of him. (sic) The black male was still swinging the bat at the older male. I heard 3 to 4 rapid gun shots, all within 6 seconds. He shot the black male from the front."
It wasn't until October 7th, when Dillon was reinterviewed by police, that he changed his story substantially:
"The male black hit the older guy in the knee or thigh area several times in succession. The older guy put his arms and leg up in a defensive position and that is why I think he got hit in the leg. At this point I was not watching what the other two male whites were doing. I continued to watch the black guy and the older guy and the black guy seemed to be back peddling away from the older guy. The black male may have been swinging the bat as he backed up. My attention was then diverted to the younger male white who was now beginning to sprint into the deli....After a few seconds this male then ran back out from behind the counter and ran out into the parking area. This male was sprinting at a fairly quick pace and was now running towards a spot where the male black and the older male white had now shifted to and were now still facing each other like they had been when I last saw them about 10 feet behind the vette. This spot was close to the roadway near a sidewalk but separated by a thin grassy strip. The younger male white ran up just to the right side of the older black. The younger male white was now only about two or three feet to the side of the old guy. The male black was now holding the bat in a baseball type stance and was not swinging the bat at anyone, he was just holding it in a ready position. The younger male white raised his arm and fired 3 or 4 shots at the black male causing the black male to fall backwards onto the ground."
Toward the end of the October 7th statement, Dillon goes beyond reporting what he saw, for the first time editorializing about what happened.
"After thinking about this situation I believe that this situation did not have to happen as the male black seemed to be defending himself as he had been outnumbered. I think he was just holding the bat to protect himself and did not have the intention of seriously hurting anyone. I believe this because the one instance I saw him swing it was down low."
This bit about swinging low is new from Dillon and even contradicts his story from earlier in the same statement. Near the beginning of the statement, Dillon says Richard DiGuglielmo was hit in the leg because he was using his arms and legs to protect himself from the bat blows. But toward the end of the statement, Dillon states DiGuglielmo was hit in the leg because Campbell was swinging low. But if Campbell was only swinging low, what was DiGuglielmo using his leg to protect? It's completely at odds with Dillon's first statement to the Channel 4 reporter, about "full force swings hitting him at least in the legs and almost the head...."
Oddly, Dillon's supervisor, Kevin O'Donnell, changed his story over the same time period and in a similar manner. Like Dillon, O'Donnell gave his first statement on the day of the shooting, and what is notable about the first statements of the two men is how consistent they are with each other.
Here's what appears to be Kevin D. O'Donnell's first statement, handwritten, unsigned and undated on a "Supporting Deposition" form:
"At 5:10 pm while driving south bound Ashford Ave waiting to make L turn onto Ogden Ave I saw a B/M approximately 35 y/o arguing w/ 3/w/m at which time the b/m walked over to a black Corvette, and opened the rear hatch of the vehicle and removed a gold/black bat from what looked like a piece of yellow carpet. He then started striking the older w/male across the rear of his legs. Also struck another w/male in the shoulder & arm-same w/male attempted to grab the bat and got hit again causing both to stumble but neither men fell at that time-the b/m raised the bat in a baseball batters stance to swing at the older/w/m. It was at this time I saw a w/m approx 5'11" 200 lbs brownish hair-w/a red shirt w/a black automatic weapon fire 3 shots approximately 10 ft away from b/m. The b/m stumbled and fell on dirt/grass area at that time. W/m went back into store. First P.O. on scene and myself performed C.P.R. on wound person, b/m."
Note the neutrality of the handwritten statement. It's just the facts, telling what he saw, with no editorializing or attempting to judge who was right or wrong.
It appears that O'Donnell gave another typed, signed statement later that evening that, while longer, is still consistent with his first statement and with Dillon's original account:
"...Th1e black male became very boisterous to all three white males and was making gestures with his hands, and he then walked over to a black Corvette that was parked in front of the Venice Deli. The black male opened up the rear hatch to the Corvette and removed what appeared to be a yellow carpet rolled up. The three white males were about ten feet away from the black male, on the passenger side of the Corvette. They were all exchanging words. At this time the black male had unrolled what appeared to be the carpet and took out a gold and black aluminum baseball bat. The black male made like a hurried up motion towards the three white males and at that time he took like a baseball stance, a batter's stance, and struck the older white male in behind the left knee area and left thigh, he struck him twice. At that time the other two white males tried to grab hold of the black male. A struggle ensued between the black male and the second and third white males who were attempting to get the bat. The second white male had a hold of the black male's left arm and they both tripped. The black male was able to get free of his grip from that stumble and took a batter's stance and was about to strike the second white male who was trying to regain his balance. The third white male then approached the black male with his right hand extended straight forward with what appeared to be a small automatic black hand gun. The third white male was standing no more than five feet away from the black male at which time he fired three shots which struck the left rib cage and the front stomach area of the black male. The black male was about to hit the second white male when the third white male came out from no where and shot the black male three times. (Underlines added where they appear throughout this article.) Three shots that were consecutive. I was out of my van before the shooting and I was trying to get behind the black male and take the bat from him so that he would not hit anybody but it didn't work out that way. He got shot before I could get away from my truck. I was only five feet away from my truck when the black male got shot. I was standing about two feet from the black male when he was shot."
Days later, around the time Dillon was re-interviewed by police, O'Donnell also did an about face, signing a statement that told a different version of events. O'Donnell's statement diverged from his earlier accounts to such a degree that he felt the need to explain why in the statement:
"The reason for the change in this statement from the original is due to that I was nervous and excited about what happened when I first spoke with Det. Ellman at the Dobbs Ferry police station. When I first left the police station I was thinking that I may have left some details out and that the statement may not have been one hundred percent accurate. This current statement is accurate to the best of my recollection of the events on October 3, 1996."
The most significant change in O'Donnell's third and last statement, dated October 8th, relates to Campbell's actions at the precise time of the shooting. Whereas in his statement after the shooting O'Donnell had said, "The black male was about to hit the second white male when the third white male came out from no where and shot the black male three times," on October 8th O'Donnell phrases the sequence of events differently:
"While I was still sitting in my vehicle with my trainee, Mikie Dillon, Richie Jr. appeared in front of my truck, with his right arm extended, I would say about five feet from Mr. Campbell who was still positioned in a batter's stance, he was not swinging the bat. Richie Jr. fired three shots from a small black automatic handgun at Mr. Campbell. Mr. Campbell never swung the bat+ICY-."
Another change that pops out in O'Donnell's October 8th statement is his supposition about the participants' motives:
"...At which time Charlie Campbell removed a yellow carpet and removed a gold and black aluminum baseball bat. Mr. Campbell then struck Richie Sr. across both legs twice. It looked like he struck him hard across the legs. I guess the reason that he struck Richie Sr. was that Richie Sr. was threatening him."
Finally, in the October 8th statement, O'Donnell adds his judgment of the shooting itself:
"I had told one of the officers that it was my opinion that he had no right to shoot him. I just didn't feel that he was threatening anybody. Nobody was hit after that old man was hit and a few minutes had gone by."
In remarkably similar fashion, another key witness, Marianne Wekerle, also appears to have given three statements that changed in the same manner over time. In her first handwritten, undated, unsigned statement on a "Supporting Deposition" form, she simply tells what she saw without speculating on the participants' motives:
"While making a L into Venice Deli parking lot I saw at least 2 white men fighting with a black man in front of the yellow poles. The black man was pushed to the ground and was hit repeatedly in the head, I parked and went into the deli-I told the employees to call the police. I went back to the door of the deli. The black man was standing. I heard one of the white men say "give it back." The black mans shirt was pulled off by one of the white men. The black man was walking to a black car and opened the trunk. The black man pulled out a baseball bat-wooden-1 white male was yelling at him (he was standing at rear of black car). The black man swung the bat at this man-at his shoulder-head area. I ran in the deli and again told the employees to call 911-I went back to the door. I heard 3 pops and saw a man standing with a gun in front of the black man. I saw the black man fall & ran into the store & called 911 myself. I told the employees to get towels. I came outside and saw one of the white men holding a gun. He was now to the feet of where the black man fell. Another man was standing over the black man saying get back. After the black man swung the bat the first time one of the white men (striped shirt) started fighting with him. The other man came and began fighting with the black man too."
Wekerle's second statement, typed and signed on the evening of the day of the shooting, while longer is still "just the facts" in tone and consistent with the handwritten statement regarding the crucial sequence of events:
"...I went back into the deli and yelled to the employee to call the police+ICY-.I went back to the front door of the deli and saw the younger brown haired white man standing at the edge of the entrance to the parking lot of the deli. This is the entrance that is closest to the hospital. This man was standing with his right hand extended, he was standing in a way that I could not see what was in his hand. The black man was standing about 5 to 10 feet in front of this man. I heard 3 pops in a row and saw the black man fall to the ground. I went back into the deli and called 911 and requested an ambulance+ICY-."
Note that while Wekerle describes the relative positions of Campbell and Richie Jr., she does not mention the position of Richie Sr., the recipient of the bat blows. Nor had she seen anything to cause her to venture an opinion, one way or the other, as to whether Campbell was about to swing again. But in her statement four days later, she makes a point of saying what she didn't see Campbell do:
"...I then went to the front door and now observed the younger white male with the red shirt standing over by the parking lot entrance, by the side of the entrance closest to the direction of the hospital, with his right arm extended out in front of him pointed towards the male black who was now standing about 5-10 feet in front of this male white. Both of them were very close to Ashford Avenue. The male black was standing facing the male white and his arms were at his sides. I did not get a sense that this black man was in the process of attacking anyone or coming after the white male standing in front of him or anyone else in the area. I didn't notice the bat at this time. In a matter of a couple of seconds I heard three shots in a row and saw small puffs of smoke coming from the area of the white males hands."
Then she volunteers her feelings:
"Based on what I had just observed in the past several minutes my feelings were that this black man had been outnumbered and from what I had observed of them beating him and overpowering him earlier, I didn't understand why they did not try to physically control him if they felt threatened. I don't see why he had to be shot."
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As you read these statements, which accounts seem most convincing to you? The ones closest in time to the incident, when the events are freshest in one's mind, their factual images burned onto the retina before we can assign meaning to or even make sense of them? Or the ones given later, after hearing other accounts and reading news reports and having conversations with friends, family and law enforcement agents?
Consider how witness statements or affidavits are routinely put together, especially the official, typed ones. Witnesses are interviewed by law enforcement officials, who type up the statement for the witness to read and approve with their signature. That's why most witness statements often don't sound like natural speech:
"He appeared to be about 30 to 35 years old and about 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 10 inches tall."
"One of the white men said 'give it back.' I do not know what this meant and I do not know which of the white men said it. The black man's shirt was pulled off of him. I don't know who pulled it off."
"I remember thinking that I could not pull into the first (west end) entrance but had to pull into the other East end entrance to avoid the males that were fighting."
Who talks like this? Cops. Not that there's anything wrong with a cop writing a statement. It's just that any honest cop will tell you that when they draft a statement, they're looking to cover areas that would likely not occur to the average witness. There are lots of ways to describe someone who is not doing something, such as not swinging a bat. They could be "about to swing" as Dillon and O'Donnell indicate in their initial statements. Or the witness may not notice one way or another, as with Wekerle in her initial statements. But it's our nature to be helpful, and if law enforcement asks our opinion as a witness, we're expected to give one, it going without saying for some reason that we're expected to have one.
Finally, even absent ulterior motives, it is human nature to turn events into "stories." It's how we make sense of the world. There are a few different ways this whole story could have been told. It could have been told as a series of escalating actions that got out of control and ended in one man's death. That wasn't the likely story to predominate, maybe because we like our stories to have good guys and bad guys. Or the story could have been the heroic cop saves father's life. We know that's not the story that prevailed.
To make sense of the conflicting witness statements, we need to ask ourselves what happened in the intervals between the statements, and what forces were at work to change the statements and thus shape the story. The timing of the similar change in all three witnesses' accounts is intriguing and possibly revealing, occurring four to five days after the shooting. That's right when it became clear that DA Jeanine Pirro was on the case with all her resources and just launching her racial bias theme into the story. Despite no evidence to substantiate it, it proved to be a narrative with enormous emotional impact. Looking back ten years later, we can see how the "story" of what happened on October 3, 1996 took shape, and how hard it is to un-tell.