Conspiracy charge stands in collapse case

A Philadelphia judge on Tuesday denied a motion to dismiss the conspiracy count against the two men accused of ignoring safety standards to save money and causing last June's Center City building collapse.

"Both defendants independently knew what they were doing was extremely hazardous and created a high danger of the disaster that ultimately occurred," Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner said in denying the motion by lawyers for Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop.

Campbell, 50, was the demolition contractor and Benschop, 43, the operator of the excavator on June 5, 2013, when an unsupported four-story wall fell and crushed the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store at 2136 Market St., killing six and injuring 13.

Daine A. Grey Jr., the lawyer for Benschop, and William D. Hobson, representing Griffin, each blamed the other's client for the collapse and argued there was no conspiracy to maximize profits by avoiding the expense of proper demolition.

"In no way was he in a partnership," Grey told Lerner. "He was a day worker following his employer's instructions."

Lerner, however, warned Grey that "your client is going down a dangerous path when you're suggesting that any time somebody tells you to do something wrong - and you agree to do something wrong - that you're not part of that agreement."

Hobson argued that the prosecution's only evidence of a conspiracy was Benschop's statement to a federal safety inspector for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Hobson said he will move to have the two tried separately to avoid prejudice to Campbell of having to address Benschop's statement if both were on trial at the same time.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber argued that both had enough experience in demolition work to understand that an unsupported four-story wall was likely to collapse.

"It was plain to anyone who looked at it," Selber added. "They knew it was dangerous."

Campbell is charged with six counts of third-degree murder.

Benschop, whose real name is Kary Roberts, is charged with six counts of third-degree manslaughter.

Both are charged with conspiracy and related crimes, including 13 counts of reckless endangerment involving those injured in the thrift store.

Griffin has been held without bail since his Nov. 25 arrest.

Benschop was arrested several days after the collapse when he tested positive for using marijuana. He remains in prison on $1.55 million bail.

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