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March 16, 2018 10:36 AM

 

A Minnesota man was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide on Wednesday when a jury believed prosecutors’ account that he was drunk during the Sept. 17, 2017, crash that killed his girlfriend.

But at trial, the defense for 21-year-old Michael Campbell countered the wreck was the fault of victim Ria Patel — who, the defense claimed, caused Campbell to speed into a utility pole when she kissed him as he drove.

Patel’s body was found inside Campbell’s totalled Ford Focus, crushed beneath the vehicle’s buckled roof. At the time of the crash, Campbell was already on probation from a prior conviction in a misdemeanor hit-and-run case.

Campbell will be sentenced April 5 and faces up to 5 years in prison.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the conviction in a statement.

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“Mr. Campbell was probably drunk, he smashed into a pole going 65 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone and he ran away,” said Freeman. “Then he tried to deflect responsibility for his actions by claiming Ms. Patel was responsible for her own death by kissing him. He also put her family through more distress by pretending that she was still alive.”

At trial, Freeman argued that Campbell ran away from the wreck, and took steps to cover up the disturbing truth about the accident and what he knew about Patel’s death.

Prosecutors argued witnesses saw Campbell get out of the mangled car and run to a nearby McDonald’s. One witness, a woman, called 911 and then saw Campbell return to the car and dig around for something in the driver’s side of the vehicle.

The witness walked toward Campbell, and Campbell told her to call 911.

She told him she had called the police, who were on their way. At that point, Campbell fled the scene, running three miles to his home and leaving his wallet in the car.

When police showed up at his house, Campbell had already left. But his roommate told police Campbell was “super drunk.”

Ria Patel/Facebook

Campbell Knew Patel Was Dead — But Misled Her Family

In court, Campbell testified that he knew Patel was dead at the time of crash, but still sent her sister a text message more than eight hours later, asking if she knew where Ria was.

Patel’s sister testified that Campbell then spoke with her on the phone and denied being in a vehicle with Patel the night before. A portion of that call was captured on video and was played for the jury, according to Freeman’s statement.

In the audio, the prosecution maintains, Campbell can be heard denying driving and telling Patel’s family, “I’m freaking out right now. Where is Ria?”

At trial, the prosecution said Campbell locked himself in his room for several hours after running home.

He called Patel’s phone from a blocked number multiple times, according to Freeman’s statement, and also contacted his employer, saying he would miss work that day.

“Eventually, he took an Uber ride to St. Michael, where his parents live, although he did not go to their house,” reads the statement. “Campbell spent a day-and-a-half in St. Michael and it is during that time that he came up with a new story, which was his defense in court.”

Campbell said in court that, as he was driving, Patel suddenly grabbed his face and gave him a passionate kiss.

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The crash occurred during that kiss, he claimed.

The statement indicates expert testimony showed Patel had suffered numerous serious injuries to her head and face while Campbell had none. Had they been kissing, Campbell would have had similar injuries.

The jury deliberated for three hours before finding Campbell guilty.

His lawyer could not be reached for comment and it was not clear if he planned to appeal.

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