By AMANDA BEAM
NEW ALBANY —
Every day, Donald Camm sits in a house of memories. Recollecting allows him to relax and smile.
At times though, it can choke up the 82-year-old. Yet, as evidenced by the photos that surround his favorite living room chair, he wants to be reminded of them all the same.
Several snapshots in particular summarize the life of the New Albany resident these past 13 years. On the wall, a young boy and small blonde-haired girl smile at the camera. Donald’s grandchildren Jill and Bradley remain frozen in time. Nothing in the photo foreshadowed the tragic fate that would befall the children and their mother Kim Camm. On the night of Sept. 28, 2000, all three were murdered in the garage of their Georgetown home.
“When I look at those pictures, that’s how I’ll remember them until the day that I die,” Donald said, referring to a photo of Jill and Bradley that he keeps on his nightstand. “That’s the last way I’d seen them and that’s how I’ll always remember them.”
Close by the chair, placed carefully atop a statue of an angel, a picture of a man in a police uniform rests. Donald’s son David Camm looks to be in his 20s in the photo. This was before the arrests, convictions and reversals all began, in a time when David was known for more than just being an accused killer.
Since the initial charges were levied in 2000, his father, sister and other family members have maintained David’s innocence. Two convictions later, one in 2002 and the other in 2006, their support has never wavered. After higher courts reversed both of these earlier decisions on appeal, the family now waits and watches as jury selection continues in David Camm’s third trial, set in Lebanon, 25 miles northwest of Indianapolis.
“I sat behind Dave through every day of the first trial. I did not miss,” Donald said. “I did the same thing in the second trial. I don’t know how this is going to work this time,” he added of the current trial, for which opening statements are set for this week.
Defending a man accused of murder, even if it is his son, hasn’t always been easy on Donald. With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and neuropathy in his legs and arms, the stress of the last decade has taken a toll on his physical health. His son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are always on his mind. They are the last thing he thinks about before his goes to sleep and the first thing that he remembers when he wakes.
“I can’t express losing them,” he said.
People sometimes forget that the Camm family also loved those who were killed. Talking about Kim, Jill and Bradley helps Donald grieve. He remembered how finding the moon with Bradley would always calm the infant he and his wife used to babysit. Jill, he said, tore through the room when she entered and grabbed his legs for a quick hug before she flew off “like a bumblebee.” And Kim, with her calm, sweet demeanor, could always surprise him with a funny reply and a twinkle in her eye.
Life has changed for all of the family since the murders. David’s sister, Julie Blankenbaker, spends her days mindfully editing what she says. Even though she no longer bears the Camm last name, she still remains aware of what others think of it. Now a Louisville resident, there’s no longer a pride felt for her name, her history or even her hometown. The trials, she said, took this away as well as other normal facets of everyday life.
“When we gather together, there’s this glaring elephant in the room that Dave and Kim and Brad and Jill aren’t there and Dave is in prison unjustly. You can’t have the whole group together and not feel that,” Blankenbaker said. “For us there’s this unfinished business. There’s not closure. We’re still fighting.”
Blankenbaker and her uncle, Sam Lockhart, try to protect their children and grandchildren from the negative fallout associated with their support of David. But with the media attention, even the youngest kids know something is different.
Comments made in passing in front of the children complicate the issue even more. Lockhart said people yell things at him from passing cars or make negative assertions behind his back, and his business has lost some clients from his association.
“I learned a long time ago I can’t control that, so I quit fighting that battle. I’ve got a more important battle to fight,” Lockhart said. “All I can do is control my efforts … I’ve committed to seeing justice done for those kids and Kim and David.”
Public reaction still makes the lives of Donald, Lockhart and Blankenbaker harder. Donald said some people glare when they learn his identity, or cringe when they hear his name. Through time, he’s acclimated himself to the animosity, but he still has a hard time understanding it.
Once, during a prison visit, Donald was speaking with another man in the visitor’s waiting room about a magazine article. The men conversed effortlessly until someone called out “Camm.”
“And [the man] looked at me just like the devil was shooting out of his eyes. He didn’t know me and, at that time, Dave hadn’t been to trial. He knew nothing of evidence. But that quick, he developed hate,” Donald said. “This hate, I don’t understand this hate.”
But the Camms can comprehend the emotional toll the trials have taken on all of those involved, including Kim’s family, the Renns. No one wants to cause this turmoil, Blankenbaker said. Still, it’s her belief that her brother is innocent, and she must help rectify this wrong.
“We’re not without sympathy for them because they lost the same people we lost and so we understand the value of those people and we understand the pain of that loss,” she said. “It just so happens that in addition to that loss, we feel the burden for the fight for justice for Dave and the justice for Kim and Brad and Jill.”
Even with their unwavering backing of David, hope for a different verdict is sometimes difficult to find for his father and Blankenbaker. Two previous trials have tempered their faith that David will ever be found not guilty and freed. The defense’s ability to present new evidence at this trial has helped to restore it some.
“I know they’re doing everything that they can and with the new evidence, I feel a confidence that Dave’s going to win,” Donald said. “Yet, we have felt confident before and so going at it a third time even knowing what we do, I can’t inside of me build up this little bit of hope. My hope is so thin”
Although his hope at times wavers, Donald continues to maintain his son’s innocence no matter what the cost.
“We as the Camm family and the Lockharts, we know Dave is innocent and we’re with him come hell and high water, bankruptcy, the whole works,” he said. “Whatever comes.”