Sentencing scheduled for April 4 in Chariton County
The five-day jury trial scheduled for Mexico attorney James A. Clampitt in Chariton County this week, ended in two days, with two guilty verdicts.
Clampitt was found guilty of felony charges of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident that happened on June 13, 2010, when Clampitt's SUV hit a riding lawnmower being driven by Richard Cobb. Cobb died three days later from injuries he received in the collision.
Clampitt's trial started Monday in the Chariton County Courthouse in Keytesville with jury selection and testimonies heard from the state medical examiner, law enforcement and Cobb's widow, Marcy Hill.
Tuesday proceedings opened with more testimonies heard from former Mexico Public Safety Detective Carl Fuenfhausen (who arrested Clampitt), American Family Insurance claim adjuster Tom Greenwell and KWWR/KXEO radio station news director Chris Newbrough, who interviewed Clampitt (about the accident) before his arrest.
The jury also saw photographs of Clampitt's wrecked vehicle and pieces of the vehicle's headlight assemblage that broke off at the scene of the accident and "fit like a puzzle piece" in the police investigation, according to Fuenfhausen.
Defense Attorney Kevin Hamlett declined to comment about the final verdict, however he did ask the jury to "have mercy" on Clampitt and not send him to prison.
The jury recommended a sentence of six months in the Audrain County Jail for the second-degree manslaughter, then two years in prison for leaving the scene of an accident.
Clampitt claims he had no idea that he had struck Cobb with his vehicle. In his interview with Newbrough, Clampitt said, "No way I wouldn't stop and give assistance."
He also admitted to having a few drinks and driving. Clampitt reported spending the day with a female companion, having a few drinks at the Dos Arcos Mexican Restaurant in Mexico and then driving his friend home. After leaving that location, Clampitt said he was driving on Jefferson Street and his cell phone rang. He reached to answer it and felt what he thought was his car hitting a curb. Clampitt stated he didn't see anything in his rearview mirror and that his vehicle was operating correctly.
Clampitt said he discovered new damage to his vehicle the next morning and tried to retrace his travels. Finding no visual proof of an accident on Jefferson Street, Clampitt said he figured another vehicle had struck his SUV, and he took it to the Pearl Motor Co. dealership for an estimate of the damages.
State Prosecuting Attorney Ted Bruce pointed out that Clampitt never reported the incident to the police, and that management at the Mexican restaurant had given police a receipt of what Clampitt's alcohol purchases had been the night of the accident.
Hamlett made several attempts to discredit Fuenfhausen's performance in the investigation and his conduct during his interview with Clampitt. Fuenfhausen denied Hamlett's accusations that he tried to force Clampitt to admit that he was driving his vehicle and had struck Cobb as he drove his lawnmower on Jefferson Street.
Hill said the sentence was not enough for the "life that was lost." Cobb's siblings said they felt justice was served, but their hearts go out to the Clampitt family.
Following the reading of the verdict, Clampitt embraced the Cobb family outside the courtroom, and said he was sorry for their loss. Clampitt's children, his ex-wife and his mother attended the proceedings and offered support.
A formal sentencing will take place April 4 in Chariton County, where the case was moved from Audrain County on a change of venue.
Hamlett was uncertain when asked if Clampitt would be disbarred. Hamlett said that is a decision that will be made by the Missouri Supreme Court. Until April, Clampitt remains free on bond.