- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An Augusta man has been charged with deliberate homicide in the death of a neighbor last fall that prosecutors said was linked to an ongoing dispute over access to land.

Joseph G. Campbell, 68, was arrested Monday in the Oct. 18 shooting death of Timothy Newman, 53.

Campbell made an initial appearance before Justice of the Peace Mike Swingley on Tuesday via video from the Lewis and Clark County jail. Swingley maintained his $1 million bail. Campbell is expected to appear in district court on Thursday.

He told investigators that he shot Newman in self-defense after Newman pointed a gun at him, court records said.

“Mr. Campbell was on his own property behind a locked gate when he was confronted by Mr. Newman,” Campbell’s attorney, John E. Smith, said in a statement.

Prosecutors said a reconstruction of the scene didn’t match Campbell’s version of events, and that Newman was first shot in the back, severing his spinal cord.

Campbell had been involved in disputes with neighbors over access to nearby public lands going back to 2000, with either Campbell or his neighbors calling the sheriff’s office dozens of times, according to the state’s motion to file charges.

Area landowners wrote to the Lewis and Clark County attorney’s office in September 2009 about what they called Campbell’s “aggressive and escalating behavior.”

“Approximately 1 year ago, Joe Campbell began bullying and harassing people on the common roads and trails,” the neighbors wrote in a letter referenced in court documents.

They said they were pursuing civil action in an effort to prove they had a right to use easements to reach public land, but Campbell continued to confront and intimidate neighbors, oftentimes with weapons.

“His actions are criminal; they are escalating; we hope that you don’t sit by until the brandished gun is fired,” the neighbors wrote then.

The county attorney responded then that there were no grounds to pursue criminal charges, court records said.

In March 2013, Newman called the sheriff’s office to report he had cut locks from gates secured by Campbell to block access to public lands beyond his property, court records said.

Later, a deputy interviewed Newman, who reportedly said he cut the locks and would continue to do so. Newman was cited in May 2013 with three counts of criminal mischief.

At some point, the county attorney’s office decided to drop the criminal-mischief cases against Newman and tell the parties to handle the dispute in civil court.

Nine days before the shooting, Campbell told deputy county attorney Anne Peterson that he could understand how the dismembered parts of another man ended up in garbage bags after the man was killed in 2011 amid a contentious property dispute in another part of the county.

Contractor LeMonte Moultray said Campbell threatened Newman two days before his death, court records said.

Moultray told investigators that Campbell made the shape of a gun with his fingers and said: “‘I’m gonna bring this to an end now … It’s that easy. I am going to put him down.’”

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