Murder trial slated to start Tuesday

  By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff
amorris@starhq.com
  A Valley Forge man who is charged with the murder of a Johnson City woman and then dumping her body near the Blue Hole Recreation Area is scheduled to stand trial on Tuesday.
  John Vernon Campbell, 41, 175 Chambers Hollow Road, was indicted on the charges of first degree murder, felony murder and abuse of a corpse in the February 2003 death of 33-year-old Terri Michelle Sanders Abbot of Johnson City.
  Abbot's body was found in on March 8, 2003, lying in a creek on U.S. Forestry Service land on Panhandle Road near the Blue Hole Recreation Area by a Kingsport man and his two sons who were scouting a fishing hole, according to police reports.
  The body was identified as that of Abbot just over a week after it was discovered. An autopsy performed at the time of her death stated that she died as a result of several blunt force traumas to the head, according to Carter County Sheriff John Henson. The autopsy also placed the date of Abbot's death as either Feb. 13 or 14 of 2003.
  Campbell was indicted in July of 2003 by a specially called Carter County Grand Jury, which handed down charges of first degree murder and felony murder. A separate Grand Jury handed down an indictment in July of 2004 charging him with abuse of a corpse. All three of the charges Campbell now faces are felonies.
  Early on in the investigation, according to Henson, investigators determined that Abbot had not been killed at the location where her body was discovered but rather her body was dumped there after she had been murdered. "We do know that she was hauled out there and dumped, and that shows something is wrong," Henson said at the time Abbot's body was discovered. "More than likely, if she had died from natural causes, someone wouldn't have dumped the body."
  As the investigation into Abbot's death progressed, according to Henson, investigators were led by the evidence to The Nashville Sound, a bar in Johnson City located on Roan Street.
  "The female was picked up there and ended up on Panhandle Road (the road where the Blue Hole Recreation Area is located)," Henson said at the time of Campbell's arrest in July 2003. "We do know that's where they made their connections."
  At the time of Campbell's arrest, Henson described the murder of Abbot as "brutal" and stated that it was the brutality of the case that led to the charge of first degree, or premeditated, murder. "If I beat someone to death, in my mind that's a horrible murder. If I shoot someone it's still a murder, but, if I take the premeditation to keep hitting someone until they are dead, then that's a brutal murder, I think," Henson said.
  Henson declined to release further details about many aspects of the case due to the fact that the trial was pending.
  However, at the time of Campbell's arrest, Henson stated that the evidence in the case indicated that Abbot may have left the bar in Johnson City with Campbell voluntarily at first, but he stated that he preferred not to comment about whether other actions were voluntary on her part.
  According to Henson, illegal drugs also played a part in the crime. "There were some illegal drugs involved and that, in my opinion, played a part," he said.
  Evidence found at the location where the body was found eventually led investigators to Campbell. "There were several things that led to Mr. Campbell, and, after we had developed him as a suspect, we found other evidence that led to him," Henson said in July, 2003, adding that at that time, Campbell had made no statements regarding the charges against him other than that he had known Abbot.
  On the day Campbell was served with the indictment charging him with first degree murder, he appeared in Carter County Criminal Court before Judge Lynn Brown to be arraigned. "When the indictment was read on him this morning his reactions were like he could care less," Henson said on the day Campbell appeared in court. "His response was very cold-hearted in my opinion. In my opinion, he is a cold-hearted killer."
  Campbell was originally scheduled for trial in July of this year, but the trial date was postponed due to the last minute discovery of new evidence. According to Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin, he and other individuals involved in the case had been reviewing the evidence when they were made aware of a test that could be conducted on one of the pieces of evidence to determine whether there was blood on it.
  "We actually conducted the test on the day before the trial," Baldwin said, adding that the results were significant.
  After the new evidence was presented to the defense and to Judge Lynn Brown, the defense asked Brown for a continuance to allow them to review the new evidence and prepare a defense against it. Brown ruled in favor of the continuance and Campbell's trial has been delayed until Dec. 7.
  Campbell's trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday and is expected to last two days.