'The unthinkable happened'

Griffin Campbell: Maintains his innocence, says architect was “go-to guy” in Market Street project.

"ON JUNE 5, 2013, a bright, beautiful Wednesday morning, the unthinkable happened in the middle of Center City Philadelphia," a prosecutor said yesterday at the start of the high-profile Market Street building-collapse trial.

A three-story wall that "loomed over a small, one-story" Salvation Army thrift shop "crushed the Salvation Army building and everyone inside," Jennifer Selber, chief of the District Attorney's homicide unit, said as she stood before a Common Pleas jury.

Six people were killed and 13 injured, including a woman who was buried under the rubble and had to have her legs amputated.

Prosecutors contend that Griffin Campbell, 51, the general contractor on the job to demolish the four-story Hoagie City building next to the one-story Salvation Army thrift shop, at 22nd and Market streets, ignored safety warnings about how the building needed to be demolished, causing an unsupported shared wall to topple onto the store.

Campbell, who has been in custody since November 2013, is on trial facing six counts each of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter - for the six people killed; 12 counts of recklessly endangering another person; aggravated assault for the woman who lost her legs; and charges of conspiracy and causing a catastrophe.

He has maintained his innocence. His attorney, William Hobson, has contended Campbell is being used as a scapegoat.

Selber told jurors that the demolition of the Hoagie City building was part of an overall attempt by developer Richard Basciano to revitalize the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street. Basciano owned most of the buildings on the two blocks, she said.

Basciano hired Campbell to demolish his buildings and "everything went fine" until the demolition of Hoagie City, Selber said.

She contended that Campbell's "decision to cut corners and do things on the cheap for his own profit led to the collapse."

Instead of taking down the Hoagie City building from top to bottom, floor by floor, Campbell chose to remove the wooden floors and joists - the horizontal beams that kept the walls stable - to sell the materials, leaving the high walls unstable, she said.

"He essentially cannibalized the building by taking out the insides and selling it," she said.

She also contended that Campbell's decision to use heavy machinery at the Hoagie City demolition site contributed to the collapse onto the thrift store.

In his opening statement, Hobson painted a picture of Campbell as a working-class North Philly guy eager to get the big job of demolishing the buildings on the two blocks of Market Street for his small company, which employed a few other African-American men from North Philly.

Hobson said that Campbell, who was not a demolition expert, relied on orders from others.

Campbell will testify in his own defense, Hobson said.

While Selber contended that Campbell was the main person responsible for the demolition plans, Hobson contended that an architect hired by Basciano - Plato Marinakos - was "the go-to guy," not Campbell.

Marinakos "controlled the project," not Campbell, Hobson contended.

Marinakos has not been criminally charged and has been granted immunity by prosecutors. He will testify for the commonwealth.

Another person who will testify for the prosecution is Sean Benschop, the man hired by Campbell to operate a 36,000-pound excavator at the Hoagie City demolition site.

Benschop and Campbell were the only two people who were criminally charged in the case.

In July, Benschop, 44, pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 12 counts of recklessly endangering another person and related offenses. In exchange, prosecutors dropped third-degree murder charges and agreed not to ask for a sentence of more than 10 to 20 years in prison when Benschop is sentenced.

Selber said that Campbell ignored warnings in the days before the collapse from both Benschop and Marinakos that the shared wall with the thrift store was unsupported and unsafe.

Hobson, however, decried these two prosecution witnesses, calling them not credible.

"You should not believe one phrase, one syllable, one word from Plato Marinakos," Hobson told jurors in a loud voice. "He's an architect not to be trusted."

Hobson also said that Campbell did not know that on June 5, 2013, Benschop, who had marijuana in his system, was "stoned."

Selber told jurors that although Benschop "was high" - that "didn't cause the collapse."

She contended Campbell's orders to Benschop to use his excavator "to hit the eastern wall" of the Hoagie City building that tragic morning caused the building's western wall - the one shared with the store - to collapse.

Killed in the store collapse were Anne Bryan, 24, daughter of City Treasurer Nancy Winkler and her husband, Jay Bryan; Anne Bryan's friend, Mary Simpson, 24; Kimberly Finnegan, 35; Roseline Conteh, 52; Borbor Davis, 68; and Juanita Harmon, 75.

Thirteen people were injured including Mariya Plekan, a Ukrainian immigrant who was trapped in the rubble for nearly 13 hours.

Judge Glenn Bronson told jurors the trial is expected to last 3 1/2 weeks.

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