LOS ANGELES COUNTY - A California man has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for the hammer killing of his former roommate, whose body was found stuffed into a wall in their former apartment six years after she was reported missing.
Randolph Eric Garbutt, 47, of Los Angeles, pleaded no contest last month to voluntary manslaughter in the 2009 slaying of Raven Joy Campbell, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He was sentenced to prison on Tuesday.
Garbutt’s ex-girlfriend, Myesha Smith, testified at a December 2016 preliminary hearing in the case that Garbutt told her he’d hit Campbell, who family members said was developmentally disabled, in the head with a hammer.
“He hit her one time and she kind of fought for her life, and he hit her again,” Smith testified, according to The Daily Breeze in Torrance. “He said, ‘God wanted her.’”
Garbutt has been in custody since his Feb. 4, 2016, murder arrest, so he will get credit for time already served, the Breeze reported.
Campbell’s family on Tuesday pointed out the irony that Garbutt’s post-conviction prison time could end up being about the same amount of time her body remained hidden.
“To place her in a wall, the irony is this man will probably only do about as much time as she was while she was in the wall,” Raven Campbell’s sister, Cynthia Campbell Kemp, said in court, according to the Breeze. “That’s the crime. The punishment is not just, but we’re just going to have to accept it.”
Campbell, 31, was reported missing by her family in June 2009. According to authorities, she had last been seen leaving her apartment, Apartment 507 at Harbor Hills, a public housing complex in an unincorporated area of Lomita.
She is survived by a son, Nicholas, who family members told the Breeze will turn 18 later this month. He was 7 when his mother vanished.
“He’s just devastated by this,” Kemp told the newspaper.
“I wish you could have let us know where she was so we didn’t have to keep searching,” another sister, Linda Campbell told Garbutt during his sentencing hearing. “Her son had to think his mom was alive for years.”
Her body was missing for years and she was in inside the wall of the apartment she was renting a room from 😢 rip baby girl he should of got life https://t.co/Fno5WTNuLQ— Brittany Sheyi (@BrittanySheyi) October 9, 2019
Another of Campbell’s sisters, Malaikah Manasseh, told the Los Angeles Times in 2015 that Campbell lived in a group home before she moved into the housing project with a high school friend. The friend’s boyfriend also was a resident of record at the apartment in late 2008, when Campbell moved in, authorities said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide Lt. Steve Jauch said during a news conference the day after Garbutt’s 2016 arrest that Campbell’s friend, identified during later court proceedings as Nicole Nelson, and her boyfriend invited Campbell to stay with them.
“They brought her in to live at the residence so she could save some money,” Jauch said.
Garbutt, a friend of the couple, was also staying at the apartment during the six months Campbell lived there, Jauch said. The lieutenant told reporters the roommates, including Garbutt, all became friends.
Nathan and her boyfriend were interviewed at length and were not suspected in Campbell’s killing, the lieutenant said.
Campbell’s family immediately suspected foul play when Campbell vanished because her purse was left behind, Manasseh told the Times. She said her sister always wore her purse strapped against her chest and would not have left home without it.
A tip and a gruesome discovery
The case remained cold until late June 2015, when homicide investigators, acting on a tip, went to the unit but found no one home, Jauch said. They returned the next day with cadaver dogs and got the new tenants’ permission to search the apartment.
The dogs alerted their handlers to the possible presence of human remains inside a closet under the two-story unit’s stairs.
Investigators got permission from the Los Angeles County Housing Authority to knock down a portion of the wall, which had a visible patched-up hole, Jauch said.
“Detectives removed the actual piece of paneling that was used to patch it up and there appeared to be something suspicious behind this wall, on the floor a good distance down in this closet area of the residence,” the lieutenant said.
The following week, on July 2, 2015, homicide detectives and staff from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office exhumed Campbell’s remains. The medical examiner identified the body and determined Campbell had died of blunt force trauma to the head.
The residents living in the apartment at the time were stunned, Jauch said. They were temporarily relocated when their home became a crime scene.
“I think the natural reaction from anyone hearing information that there may be human remains where you’re living, I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be taken aback by that information,” Jauch said, according to the Times.
Campbell’s body was found in an empty space behind the closet.
“It’s hollow and connects to the closet,” Candace Diggs, a resident in the housing complex told the newspaper. “These units are all built the same. They’re all concrete except for the wall behind the stairs.”
Jauch explained that empty space under the stairs appeared to be an unusual design.
“Typically, when you picture a hole in the wall, what most of us picture would be a hole in a wall with a floor directly at the base of the wall,” Jauch said, using the wall behind him to demonstrate. “That wasn’t the case here.
“It was a configuration where the hole in the wall inside of the closet area … actually dropped down several feet to a dirt floor.”
Watch Lt. Steve Jauch discuss the killing of Raven Campbell below.
When detectives and crime scene technicians removed the patch job from the wall and looked down, they could see the bundle containing Campbell’s remains.
According to KTLA, Campbell’s family members were certain the remains were hers as soon as they were found. At the time of the discovery, they blamed investigators for not doing a more thorough search of her home when she went missing.
“We said bring the dogs, bring … everything we saw on ‘CSI.’ We wanted them to do that. They said, ‘No, we don’t find any reason,’” Campbell’s cousin, Linda Campbellhumphrey told the news station in 2015. “We, in our heart of hearts, know it’s her.”
Jauch said during the 2016 news conference that homicide and missing persons detectives conducted significant legwork after Campbell disappeared.
“Interviews were conducted, bank records were checked, phone records were checked,” Jauch said. “Ultimately, the case went cold.”
Campbell’s family described her as a sweet, trusting woman.
“She was such a wonderful spirit,” a third sister, Renee Campbell, told KTLA in 2015.
The siblings’ mother, Joreena Johnson, pleaded for information about her daughter’s death at a vigil following the gruesome discovery.
“Who did this to her? She didn’t deserve this,” a tearful Johnson said, according to the news station. “Y’all help me find out what happened to my baby, please.”
Favot (@sarahfavot) February 5, 2016
Garbutt was arrested on a murder charge seven months after Campbell’s body was found. Jauch said the arrest was the result of tireless efforts by homicide detectives, who looked at anyone who had a connection to the apartment in the time frame Campbell lived there.
“Over the last several months, really, the credo from our detectives was, ‘Let’s don’t do this in a hurry, let’s do it right,’” Jauch said.
Garbutt was initially arrested on a traffic warrant, the lieutenant said in 2016.
“After being released on the warrant, he was immediately booked for the murder of Raven Campbell,” Jauch said. He was rebooked into the Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
On Friday, Garbutt remained at the Los Angeles County jail system’s Pitchless Detention Center in Castaic, awaiting his transfer to state prison, jail records showed.
A mistrial and a plea
Garbutt initially went on trial for Campbell’s slaying in 2018, but a mistrial was declared after information came to light about two witnesses neither prosecutors nor the defense team was aware of, the Breeze said.
Two weeks of testimony prior to the mistrial revealed that Garbutt beat Campbell to death and enlisted Smith, the mother of his child, to help him push her body into the space behind the closet wall.
Prosecutors said Smith began receiving Campbell’s mail, including her government checks, at her Inglewood home after Campbell vanished. The Breeze reported that police found Campbell’s identification in Smith’s possession a month after she went missing.
It was unclear why Smith was not linked to Campbell’s disappearance at that time.
The newspaper reported that Garbutt’s public defender, Rhonda Haymon, argued during last year’s trial that Smith, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against her ex-boyfriend, was the true killer and Garbutt took the blame so their child would not grow up without a mother.
Garbutt told investigators Campbell, who had been drinking, fell and hit her head after returning from bingo with another roommate, the Breeze reported. He said he panicked, afraid he’d be blamed for her head injury, and suffocated her with a plastic grocery bag.
No other motive besides the story Garbutt told authorities has ever been uncovered.
LADAOffice) October 8, 2019
Smith testified that it was she and Nathan who went to play bingo the night Campbell was killed. When they returned, she found Garbutt “sweeping and mopping” the floor, using bleach to clean it, the Breeze reported.
Smith said she thought nothing of it because Nathan liked to keep the apartment clean.
According to the Breeze, Smith said she fell asleep on the couch but awoke to the sound of drilling. Smith said she found Garbutt inside the closet under the stairs, cutting a hole in the wall.
A body was lying on the closet floor, wrapped in plastic and a floral print blanket, Smith testified. Garbutt told her it was Campbell.
Smith testified that Garbutt climbed into the hole and started dragging Campbell’s body into it before asking her for help. She said she pushed the lifeless form about 2 inches.
“He just pushed the body in the wall,” Smith said.
The Breeze reported that Garbutt told Smith to keep a lookout to ensure no one was coming near the closet.
“I was pacing back and forth,” Smith said, according to the newspaper. “I was at the window, and I was looking at the closet and my nerves was all ragged.”
Investigators testified at the preliminary hearing that Garbutt said he used a bowl to dig up some dirt to throw over Campbell. After climbing out of the hole, he tossed several bathroom air fresheners into the makeshift grave to help cover the smell.
Smith testified she was scared Garbutt would harm her if she told anyone what he had done, because he “always threatened and always told her he could kill her and no one would care,” the Breeze reported.
Campbell’s family members, seven of whom spoke at Garbutt’s sentencing hearing, told the newspaper they believe if Garbutt had again gone to trial, he would have been convicted of murder and faced life in prison.
They expressed heartbreak over the plea deal and subsequent, much lighter sentence.
“I would have rather had a jury tell me ‘not guilty’ than to hear he’s only going to be in there for another five years,” Renee Campbell told the Breeze after the hearing. “It’s not ideal, but at least we get some closure.”
The Campbell family described Raven as kind, loving, good-natured and innocent. She loved talking to loved ones on the phone and it was the sudden halt in her phone calls in the summer of 2009 that told them something had happened to her.
They viewed her developmental issues as a gift, the Breeze reported.
“The way she viewed the world was a lot healthier than most of us,” her niece, Princess Manessah, said.