Fire and Ice
An Amarillo teen who was convicted of manslaughter for intentionally driving his Cadillac over a 19-year-old punk rocker initially told police the victim had slipped on the ice and fallen under his car.
Dustin Camp's written and oral statements to Amarillo police, taken just hours after the December 12, 1997, death of 19-year-old Brian Deneke during a street fight between football jocks and punk rockers, were obtained by the Houston Press this week through an open records request.
The confessions had not been made public and were not entered as evidence in Camp's murder trial, which ended in September with a lesser manslaughter conviction. Camp, a football player and popular member of Tascosa High School's jock clique, received ten years' probation, a sentence that outraged many Amarillo residents.
According to witnesses, Amarillo's high school jocks frequently harassed the city's group of 200 or so punks, Goths and skinheads. Those tensions led to the brawl in an Amarillo shopping-center parking lot in which Deneke was killed and at least one jock was seriously injured.
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Deneke's death and its aftermath were detailed in the October 21 Press cover story, "Punks, Jocks and Justice."
In his written statement, Camp, who was 17 at the time of Deneke's death, said, "I was just going to knock him [Deneke] down with my car. I [sic] was icy on the ground [and] my car slid. And I guess he slipped and my car went over him."
"I didn't know what to do so I took off and took my friends that were in the car home," the statement continues. "I went straight home after that."
In his taped oral confession to Amarillo police Sergeant Rudy Montano, Camp said in a trembling, tearful voice that he hit the brakes before striking Deneke: "There was ice over there and when I hit my brake and it just kept my car just kept going and the guy like slipped on the ice or something and the car went went over him and I got scared and I took off."
Camp's story sharply conflicts with the eyewitness accounts of the two passengers in his car, Elise Thompson and Rob Mansfield. Thompson testified in court and told the Press that Camp wheeled his car around and aimed for Deneke, who was standing directly in front of Camp's Cadillac with his arm upraised and holding a "black stick."
As he approached Deneke, Thompson said that Camp made the comment, "I'm a ninja in my Caddy." After running over him, she testified Camp said, "I bet he liked that."
Deneke died at the scene from numerous injuries, including a fractured skull and crushed chest.
Contrary to his claim that he hit the brakes, Camp jumped a median and headed straight for Deneke without stopping, according to Thompson. She was seated alone in the back of Camp's 1983 Cadillac and would become the prosecution's most important witness.
In her written statement to police, also obtained by the Press, Thompson said, "Dustin headed straight for a guy who was standing on one of the medians in the parking lot. The guy had his back toward us. Right before we hit him, he turned and saw Dustin's car coming. We were going fast. Dustin was driving right at the guy. When we hit him, his torso came up on the hood toward us. Then he slid under the car. We hit the median he was standing on and I felt a big bump. I just prayed the bump was the median and not him."
Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo attorney who represents Brian Deneke's family, called Camp's claim that Deneke slipped and fell beneath his car an "incredible discrepancy." He deemed the written and oral confessions "absolutely critical information" that should have been entered as evidence during Camp's trial.
"It shows beyond any doubt that Dustin Camp was a liar who took absolutely no responsibility for what he did to this boy," Blackburn said. "It proves he's a liar, and it also proves he's a remorseless liar. It raises some question about the seriousness of the state in even prosecuting Dustin Camp."
Potter County District Attorney Rebecca King said there was no need to enter Camp's statements as evidence. "It was a self-serving statement," she said. "In that instance, there was nothing new that aided the prosecution or the defense."
Blackburn said he plans to file a wrongful-death suit against Camp next week, before the second anniversary of Deneke's death.
Camp's attorney, Warren L. Clark, did not return calls for comment. Earlier, Clark had told the Press that Camp used his car as a weapon to defend a friend with whom Deneke was supposedly fighting. Clark employed this "self-defense of a third party" strategy during Camp's jury trial.
In a lengthy interview last month, Clark blamed Deneke's death on Camp's actions as well as the fact that Deneke was taking part in a brawl and wielding a weapon.
Deneke's friends, Clark said, are understandably angry. "A good friend got run down. They're upset about it. They're never gonna forget it. Okay? And they shouldn't. And here's the rub they refuse to accept the fact that [Deneke's] behavior had a part in what happened."
Debbie Camp, Dustin Camp's mother, earlier declined a request for an interview with her son, saying, "The press hasn't been accurate, so I think we're going to stay away from it."
Camp did not testify on his own behalf until the sentencing phase of his trial. Though Camp's confession statements weren't admitted as evidence, they were briefly mentioned when a prosecutor cross-examined Camp. At that time Camp admitted the slippery ice scenario "was probably not the case."
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