Woman on trial for tryst with inmate enters guilty plea|
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
The trial of an SCI Houtzdale employee accused of having an illicit affair with an inmate and providing him with cell phones ended abruptly after the defendant pleaded guilty midway through the first day of trial.
Rachelle Thompson, 48, of Philipsburg was on trial on the charges of institutional sexual assault, three counts; weapons or implements of escape, contraband-telecommunications device. Thompson was a drug and alcohol counselor at the prison and she was accused of having a sexual relationship with inmate Jason Campbell of Philadelphia between April of 2010 and Sept. 2011 and providing him and his cellmate with cell phones.
According to testimony at the trial, Campbell worked as Thompson's assistant at the prison.
The trial got underway yesterday morning but after the lunch break President Judge Fredric Ammerman announced that the commonwealth and the defendant had come to an agreement where Thompson agreed to an open plea of guilt on the charges weapons or implements of escape and contraband-telecommunications device, both of which are graded as misdemeanor one offences. In exchange the three counts of institutional sexual assault were withdrawn.
It was also stipulated that Thompson would be prohibited from being employed in a corrections institution.
Ammerman said the agreement appears to be reasonable considering the length of time that could be taken in appeals.
Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw Jr. said he was pleased with the agreement and said Thompson would have faced a similar verdict if she had been found guilty on all the charges because the institutional sexual assault is a probation eligible offense.
With the agreement, Shaw said Thompson is facing a nine month minimum to a maximum of five years on the weapons or implements of escape and a minimum of probation to six months to a maximum of five years on the contraband-telecommunications, which means she could serve nine months to 10 years in prison.
Because it was an open plea where there was no negotiated sentence between the commonwealth and the defendant, her sentence would be set by Ammerman.
Shaw had planned to call Campbell as his first witness, but before the jury was brought in Ammerman asked Campbell if he was willing to testify, but he refused despite being granted immunity by Ammerman.
"I would rather die than testify against that woman," Campbell said.
Because of his refusal, Ammerman found him in contempt of court and sentenced him to an additional six months to one year in prison to be served consecutively to any sentence he currently has.
Campbell also refused to testify at the preliminary hearing and was sentenced to an additional six months to one year in prison for that offense as well.
Campbell is currently serving a 20-year plus prison sentence on a conspiracy to commit murder and burglary convictions, Shaw said.
During the investigation, Campbell told police he had a sexual relationship with Thompson and had received two cell phones from her and gave one to his cellmate to keep him from turning him in, according to a previous article in The Progress.
However, soon afterward, Campbell stopped cooperating and refused to testify against Thompson.
During the investigation Thompson initially denied the affair to police but eventually admitted to state police investigators to having a sexual contact with Campbell on at least three occasions, according to a previous article in The Progress.
In his opening statement yesterday, Thompson's attorney, Ron Collins of Clearfield argued that the commonwealth has to prove independent of Thompson's statements that a crime had been committed under the legal principal of "corpus delicti."
Corrections officer Mark Eger testified on Sept. 9, 2011, at approximately 9:15 p.m. he saw inmate Maurice Carter using a cell phone. Eger testified he followed prison procedures and notified his superiors.
Carter shared a cell with Campbell and the next morning prison officials conducted a search of their cell and found two cell phones and chargers hidden inside laundry detergent boxes. The boxes were sealed using toothpaste to make it appear they hadn't been opened according to corrections Officers Brian Hall and Brian Maines, who had searched the cell.
The two inmates were then removed from their cell and housed in separate cells in the high security area of the prison.
Also found in their cell were three printed photographs of a partially clad woman from the waist down wearing underwear or thong underwear. The pictures were of the buttocks and crotch area of the woman. The photographs had messages written on them which said "To J my future husband," or "To J my husband," along with some sexually explicit language.
There was also a picture of a tattoo with the initials "JC" in cursive writing. When the jury was out of the courtroom, Shaw told the court he was planning on introducing several letters that Campbell had sent to Thompson that were signed in a similar fashion as the tattoo that appeared in the picture.
Thompson's attorney had challenged the introduction of the photographs saying there was no foundation establishing the pictures were of Thompson.
However, Ammerman said the signatures on the letters and the picture of the tattoo were similar and allowed the photographs and the letters to be admitted as long as the contents of the letters were not shown to the jury, only the signature.
Because of his refusal to testify, all of Campbell's statements in letters or to the police were not allowed to be admitted at trial by Ammerman because the defense would have no opportunity to cross examine Campbell on these statements.
Byron Brumbaugh, head of intelligence at SCI Houtzdale said several very explicit digital photographs were also found in one of the cell phones and although none of the pictures had the complete face of the woman, he recognized them as being of Thompson because of the mole she had above her mouth.
Shaw also said a ring the woman was wearing in the cell phone pictures is the same ring worn by Thompson in police photographs of her.
The tattoo of the initials on her side was covered up by another tattoo of some flowers.
During the lunch break, Collins, too, challenged showing these photographs to the jury. When Ammerman ruled they could be shown, Thompson agreed to plead guilty, Shaw said after the trial when interviewed by the media.