HOUSTON – A convicted rapist and murderer will be removed from death row because of new evidence and changes in the law, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Robert James Campbell, 44, was sentenced to death in the 1990s for the murder of Alexandra Rendon.
Rendon, a Houston bank teller, was kidnapped from a gas station and driven to a remote location in south Houston in 1991. Campbell and an accomplice raped and robbed her. Campbell then fatally shot Rendon in the back as she tried to run away.
"Can you imagine what she went through – her last moments of life? Being told run and being shot in the back. Raped," said Israel Santana, Rendon's cousin.
Rendon's family has waited 26 years for justice only to hear Campbell's life will be spared.
"We didn’t need this. We didn’t need to hear more bad news," Santana said.
To make things worse, Campbell will immediately be eligible for parole.
"The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is committed to doing everything we possibly can to make sure Robert James Campbell serves every second of his life sentence," said Joshua Reiss, Harris County District Attorney's Office.
That's not enough for Santana.
"I believe there is no alternative for Robert James Campbell other than being put to death," he said.
Campbell was set to be executed in 2014, but the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals halted the punishment at the last minute.
"To come home and turn on the TV and see his family outside the Huntsville unit dancing and celebrating," Santana said. "The law protected the wrong one there."
The court allowed defense attorneys to pursue an appeal, which claimed Campbell was mentally impaired due to his low IQ, and ineligible for the death penalty.
A 70 IQ is the minimum threshold set by the court.
The appeal has been pending ever since.
Then Wednesday morning, prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed a request for the case to be sent back to state court to be sentenced again.
Prosecutors say they can no longer contest Campbell is intellectually disabled due to new evidence and a recent Supreme Court decision regarding intellectual disability and the death penalty.
Attorneys say they recently found an IQ test that Campbell had completed in the sixth grade. He scored a 68, which is below the execution standard.
Both the original prosecutors and defense attorneys reportedly overlooked the document in 1991.
Because of the new developments, officials say Campbell will likely be re-sentenced to life in prison.
Due to the laws at the time of the original trial, he will immediately be eligible for parole.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Wednesday that she will do everything in her power to ensure Robert James Campbell is never released from prison.
“Campbell’s crimes were extraordinarily heinous and vile,” Ogg said. “His acts were among the worst of the worst.”
The following is a statement from the family of Alejandra Rendon through Israel Santana, who was a cousin of the victim and is a Houston defense lawyer.
“It is with a heavy heart and disappointment that we hear of the recent developments in the case against Robert James Campbell, the man who brutally murdered our loved one, Alejandra Rendon. We truly believe that justice would have been properly served with his execution. Nevertheless, we accept the recent decisions made by the State of Texas and the Supreme Court, and we ask for continued prayers for our family after having received this devastating news. At this point, we can only hope and pray that Robert James Campbell spends the rest of his living years behind bars, and himself seeks forgiveness from our God Almighty.”
Rob Owen, of Northwestern University School of Law, released the following statement on behalf of Campbell's legal team:
"On behalf of Robert's legal team, I want to say that we are grateful that Robert Campbell’s life will be spared as a result of the Attorney General’s decision to conclude this litigation. Given the overwhelming evidence of Mr. Campbell’s intellectual disability, it was only a matter of time until the courts reached the same conclusion, and further delay would not have served anyone’s interests. We hope that the family and loved ones of Alexandra Rendon can take some comfort in having this matter finally resolved, and we are profoundly sorry for their terrible loss."