No breach of agreement in explosives case, judge says, and orders sentencing in May

February 24, 2019
Brian Campbell in court Friday before a hearing over a state prosecutor's sentencing memorandum in his case. Campbell's lawyers had sought to bar the memorandum, but a judge disagreed.

A Dane County judge said Friday that a prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum, which theorized that a man convicted of mixing dangerous chemicals last year in his Far West Side apartment was plotting an attack on the UW-Madison campus, was not a breach of a plea agreement.

Circuit Judge Susan Crawford denied a motion by lawyers for Brian Campbell, 31, to seal and strike the memorandum, and instead re-set sentencing for Campbell for May 13. Crawford also ordered that a pre-sentence report be completed before the sentencing hearing.

Crawford also offered Campbell the opportunity to withdraw the no contest pleas he entered in January to second-degree reckless endangerment and possession of an improvised explosive device, if Campbell instead wanted to go to trial on the original charges he faced. He declined.

Crawford also invited Campbell’s lawyer, Sarah Schmeiser, to write her own sentencing memorandum ahead of the hearing in May.

Pre-sentence reports are often written by a state Department of Corrections agent after a defendant is convicted of a crime, and are intended to give judges factual information about the defendant’s background and about the offense itself. The report is confidential.

In this case, when Campbell pleaded no contest in January to the reckless endangerment and explosives charges, no pre-sentence report was requested by Schmeiser or the prosecutor assigned to the case at the time, Stephanie Hilton.

Campbell, now of Carol Stream, Illinois, originally was to be sentenced on Friday. On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney John Rice filed a 39-page sentencing memorandum outlining the reasons that he believes Campbell should be sentenced to three years in prison, followed by eight years of extended supervision.

In it, Rice theorized that Campbell held a grudge against UW-Madison because he was banned from campus after a battery incident at the Hoofer Sailing Club. Campbell was ultimately convicted of misdemeanor battery, after first being placed in a deferred prosecution program. He was kicked out of the program after his arrest on Feb. 20, 2018, in the case Campbell now faces.

Rice also theorized in his memorandum that Campbell’s homegrown experiments with dangerous chemicals, along with other evidence, showed he was plotting to plant explosives at UW-Madison, perhaps using the steam tunnels connecting campus buildings to carry out the plot.

Campbell’s lawyers responded that Rice was wildly speculating about Campbell’s motives and that Rice’s speculation was not based on any facts.

In court Friday, Rice said the criminal complaint, which Campbell had accepted as providing a factual basis for the crimes he admitted, contained facts from which Rice was free to draw conclusions as he argued for the sentence he was seeking.

Rice said his memorandum was to argue not only for three years in prison, which was the maximum he could seek under the plea agreement. Much of what he included in the memorandum was to support his request for eight years of extended supervision, he said, which was not a limit provided by the plea agreement, and that he had not crossed any line that put him in breach of the agreement.

“I’m not going to hold back facts from the court just because the defense doesn’t like how they sound for the defendant,” Rice said.

Schmeiser, who is seeking probation for Campbell with some time in jail as a condition of probation, argued that Rice went too far by comparing Campbell to famous domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski. She said the information presented in Rice’s memorandum, in “inflammatory language,” went far beyond what was in more than 1,200 pages of police reports and the criminal complaint.

“I expect the state to make an argument and that it be based on the factual basis we’ve agreed to, that’s all we’re asking for,” Schmeiser said, and not based on “fear mongering and hyperbole.”