More than three years after Sheldene Campbell (left) killed one woman and injured another in a hit-and-run rampage in White Plains, her murder and assault trial opened today in Westchester County Court. County Judge Barbara Zambelli, who is a stickler for starting proceedings at 9:30 a.m. sharp, had to delay opening statements for nearly an hour because of a string of unforeseen circumstances.
First, defense lawyer Allan Laurence Brenner was a half-hour late because did not have an up-to-date attorney’s pass and had to wait in the long, long courthouse security line to enter. Zambelli admonished him but said she would ask court security to accept his expired pass. Then she apologized to Brenner for getting his first name wrong during in previous court proceedings, when she apparently referred to him by his middle name. She chided him and prosecutor Christine O’Connor for never correcting her. Brenner kidded that his name was unimportant to the case.
Then, the appointed jury foreman was dismissed after telling Zambelli that he questioned his own objectivity because two of his family members are retired law enforcement officers. A female juror took his place.
The panel for Campbell’s trial also has an unusual pair of jurors: a husband and wife team. The wife was called in separately and promised — as her husband did previously —that she would follow the judge’s orders to not talk about the case until deliberations began. Zambelli, who oversees a plethora of criminal trials every year, seeemed amazed that a married couple was picked for the same jury: “This is an all-time first for me,” she said.
By the time the jury entered, the courtroom was packed. Family and friends of the victims filled the front row on one side while prosecutors and spectators filled the rows behind them. The other side of the courtroom was packed with teenaged girls from Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, who were observing the proceedings as an assignment.
Campbell, who has been in jail since Oct. 29. 2008, is facing 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the top charge. Her trial will continue on Wednesday.