Dozens mark 7th anniversary of San Jose's officer's death with protest of trial delay
By Lisa Fernandez and Mark Gomez


Mercury News
Article Launched: 10/28/2008 10:55:45 AM PDT


Video:
Seven years ago Tuesday, San Jose police officer Jeffrey Fontana was gunned down in the line of duty. His accused killer still is awaiting trial.

About 50 family members and friends marched to the Hall of Justice in San Jose on the anniversary of Fontana's death to show their frustration and anger with the continual delays in the case.

Chanting "seven years is too long" and "justice delayed is justice denied," the group circled the Hedding Street building and demanded justice for Fontana, who was shot to death Oct. 28, 2001, during a pre-dawn patrol stop in Almaden Valley.

DeShawn Campbell, the man accused of shooting Fontana in the head and leaving him to die in a cul-de-sac off Almaden Expressway, was arrested less than two weeks after the officer's death. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Campbell, now 29, but the case has been held up in large part because defense attorneys say he is mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded criminals.

Fontana's family and friends have had enough.

"When I tell my friends and others that this case has never gone to trial, they just don't believe me," said Fontana's mother, Sandy, who was at the protest with her husband, Tony, and son Greg. "Take away the fact that he was my son. He was a police officer and killed in the line of duty. It's not like it's been three, four years. But seven years. We want a trial. Now

we've become victims of the justice system."

The legal battle over Campbell's mental condition has been the key drag on the case. In August 2007, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled that Campbell was not mentally retarded. Five months later, a state court of appeal ordered a new hearing after a former youth worker came forward to admit he had confused Campbell with another person while testifying about the defendant's mental abilities.

In July, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge issued a ruling that effectively reopened the question of whether Campbell is mentally retarded. The reopened hearing to determine Campbell's mental abilities ended Friday. Lawyers expect the issue to be decided by the end of the year.

"We believe we are going to win on that issue and hope to go to trial soon," prosecutor Lane Liroff said.

But there have been other complications too. A public defender was removed in December 2003 for a conflict of interest. A new defense team recently argued to have Deputy District Attorney Liroff disqualified from prosecuting the case because of Liroff's campaign to become a judge. A Superior Court judge rejected that argument and defense attorney Edward Sousa's call for recusing the entire district attorney's office from the case.

It's these procedural issues that are toying with the Fontana family's emotions.

"Without a trial, it's just more difficult all the time," Sandy Fontana said. "We can't move forward. This is not the normal life cycle."

Sandy Fontana, however, was heartened by the size of the crowd Tuesday morning. She only expected a handful of people, but with invitations sent out on Facebook, in e-mail and in phone calls, there were dozens of people there to show their support for her. The crowd included criminal justice students and a professor at Fontana's alma mater, San Jose State University, family friends and police officers. They all were wearing light blue T-shirts that said "Justice for Jeff" over a San Jose police badge.

As they have done each year since Fontana's death, family and friends were also scheduled to participate in a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at Fontana Park.


http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_10836979