OC district attorney sues parole board, says victim's rights violated

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Orange County District Attorney's Office filed a civil lawsuit against the California Board of Parole Hearings, alleging it violated crime victim's rights.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Collene Campbell, the former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, whose 27-year-old son Scott was strangled and thrown out of an airplane into the ocean in 1982.

A family friend, Lawrence Cowell, then 33, and Donald DiMascio, then 32, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The D.A. said Cowell was denied parole in 2016, finding he still posed a threat to public safety if released. He was not scheduled to be eligible for parole until 2019.

Campbell and her husband Gary - who has since died - attended all the hearings.

She said many times hearings are changed or cancelled at the last minute, after traveling hours to attend, so it again angered her to find out Cowell's hearing was moved up by a year to next month, May 23.

"It made me very angry," said Campbell, speaking at a press conference at the OCDA's office. "My first thought was they know Gary is dead and I would have a hard time getting there."

With the lawsuit, the OCDA hopes to block the parole hearing from going ahead.

OCDA Tony Rackauckas alleged the state parole board violated Marsy's Law, which gives rights to crime victims.

"They failed to adequately notify Collene Campbell of the new hearing date, which is required under Marsy's Law," Rackauckas said.

The D.A. also said the date change was made - not by the board - but by an administrative employee of the board, who didn't have the authority and it was done without any new evidence being offered.

"There is a certain minimum beneath which you should not have to revisit this crime and that is established within the Constitution at three years," said Dr. Henry Nicholas, the architect of Marsy's Law, named after his sister Marsy who was murdered in 1983.

The D.A. said exactly why the hearing was moved up is not known.

However, Rackauckas said it could be related to a move in California to reduce the inmate population, citing Proposition 57 as an example.

"Laws have been made to reduce the number of people in prison," Rackauckas said. "I see this as part of that. It's a continuation of this movement to get people out of prison."

So far, we have not received comment from the board.

The case is expected to be heard in court in Santa Ana on May 16 - one week before the scheduled parole hearing.
Copyright © 2019 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.