Another senseless murder

Remembering Jimmy Lee Campbell

A few weeks ago I got an email from David Hopper, a local artist and businessman, about the murder of David Yang and a comment District Attorney Mike Ramsey made about it.

Yang was the young man who was shot, apparently randomly, as he sat in his car at 3:15 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the intersection of Highway 32 and Bruce Road, waiting for the signal to change. Ramsey subsequently said he didn’t remember any other such case of random violence in his 30 years of prosecuting in Butte County.

But, as Hopper reminded me, there was just such a senseless murder 32 years ago, on the night of Jan. 13, 1979. That’s when three young punks, Marvin Noor, James McCarter and Dani Shope, having spent the day drinking prodigious amounts of beer, rum and whisky, shot to death 21-year-old Jimmy Lee Campbell simply for the thrill of it.

Sixteen months later, the CN&R published a 5,000-word account of the events surrounding Campbell’s killing. Titled “The Nigger Hunt,” and written by Kevin Jeys and K. Patrick Conner, it remains one of the finest pieces this newspaper has ever published.

Campbell was a young black man from Chico who’d long struggled with severe undiagnosed deafness and was just starting to get his life together. At the time, he was living at a group home in Orland, where he was getting advanced sign-language training. He was learning to get around on his own, coming to town to visit his mother and sister and even going to Oakland to spend time with his father.

On the night he was killed, he’d been skating at Cal Skate and was walking along the railroad tracks on Park Avenue south of East 20th Street on his way north to meet his ride back to Orland by 10 p.m., as scheduled.

Noor, McCarter and Shope, driving a 1961 Pontiac, pulled up behind him. McCarter rolled down his window, propped a .30-.30 Winchester deer rifle on the sill, and shot Campbell through the shoulder and chest, killing him almost instantly.

They had originally set out to kill a deer in the hills above Oroville. When they couldn’t find one, they started driving toward Chico, looking for a cow to shoot. But they couldn’t find a cow, either. So they decided to go into Chico and find “a critter” to shoot. They were on “a nigger hunt,” they said.

They found Jimmy Lee Campbell.

Too drunk to keep their mouths shut, they later bragged about the killing. A neighbor heard them and called the police. Shope turned state’s evidence, took a plea bargain, and was sentenced to 15 years to life. Noor and McCarter pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and were sentenced to 25 years to life.

Mike Ramsey hasn’t forgotten Jimmy Lee Campbell, not for a minute. Every time one of the three murderers has come up for parole, he’s brought Campbell’s mother and sister—and a copy of the CN&R story—to the hearing to testify about the wantonness of the killing. All three killers remain in prison.