Judge denies motion to sever building collapse defendants

By Jim Boyle | Sep 17, 2014

The two men charged with six counts of murder stemming from the June 2013 collapse of

The two men charged with six counts of murder stemming from the June 2013 collapse of

a Center City building will stand trial together, according to Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner. The order denies a motion to sever the defendants filed by attorney William Hobson, representing contractor Griffin Campbell.

Campbell and Sean Benschop have been accused of criminal behavior by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who says both men dangerously cut corners during the demolition of the building on Market Street.

Hobson made the motion to sever, saying that statements Benschop made to a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during its investigation could damage Campbell's case. To address those concerns and keep the defendants together, Lerner ruled that Benschop's statements were redacted and the jury would not hear them during testimony.

The tragedy occurred after an unsupported wall from the structure being demolished collapsed onto the roof of an adjacent Salvation Army thrift shop.

Williams’ office said Campbell, realizing the expense involved in the proper method of demolition, opted instead for a flat-fee contract that provided a deadline for the work to be done, choosing to “maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors.”

The joists, according to the D.A.’s Office, were valuable for resale.

Taking the joists out first, however, meant Campbell would have to dismantle the building from the inside out, rather from the top down, something that left the exterior walls without adequate support.

Scaffolding or other bracing could have helped avert the catastrophe, by keeping the exterior walls standing long enough to take them apart damage free, but Campbell never properly braced the walls, Williams’ office stated.

Campbell was even warned by an architect that the exterior wall situation needed to be immediately addressed, but the contractor was not willing to pay for enough labor to handle the task, according to the prosecutor’s office.

An excavating machine that was operated by Benschop, and had been brought in to extract the joists and clear rubble on the scene, ended up causing the exterior wall to tumble onto the top of the adjacent thrift store, which was filled with customers and employees at the time.

A trial date will be set during a Sept. 24 hearing, Lerner said. All parties have been placed under a gag order.

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