James Carver showed little emotion Thursday evening as Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss told him a jury had found him guilty on five of six charges, including murder and rape, related to the February shooting death of 33-year-old Wilmington resident Heather Camp.
The jury found Carver guilt of murder, rape, having weapons under disability, assault and tampering with evidence.
He was found not guilty of domestic violence.
Coss sentenced Carver to a total of at least 33 years in prison. The judge told Carver he could serve the rest of his life behind bars, adding, “And I hope you do.”
On the murder charge, Carver was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison to a maximum of life. He was sentenced to 10 years for rape, three years for using a gun in the commission of a crime, and 30 months each on the tampering with evidence and having weapons under disability charges.
Coss said those sentences are to be served consecutively, or one after the other.
Carver was also sentenced to six months in the county jail for assault. That sentence was to be served concurrent to the other sentences, Coss said, because it did not make sense for Carver to be sentenced to time in the county jail while he is in prison.
Before Carver was sentenced, two members of Camp’s family made statements to the court.
Camp’s 15-year-old daughter (she is not named because she is a juvenile), fighting back tears, said, “I’m distraught, I’m lost, and I don’t know what to do with all the pain and emotion I feel inside… I will never hate, and I do wish to forgive Carver for his mistakes.”
Deena Camp, who said she was Heather Camp’s cousin, also struggled with her emotions and said, “A very bright and shining light has been taken from our family, and our family is never going to be same.”
As those statements were read, Carver put his head in his hands and appeared to sob. When he was asked if there was anything he wanted to say, he stood, turned toward Heather Camp’s family, and said he was sorry. His emotion and acoustics in the courtroom made him hard to hear. “I can’t bring her back. I wish I could,” he said.
Before passing sentence, Coss said that despite the defense’s claim that Carver accidentally shot Heather Camp, he had no doubt that Carver pulled the trigger.
“You’re crying now, but that means nothing,” Coss said. “You know what? That’s just a show. I see it all the time.”
Coss said Carver had a long criminal history, much of it filled with violence. He asked Carver if he had ever been sent prison for those past crimes. Carver said he had, and that he had been released from prison about a year ago.
“That was their mistake,” Coss said.
The judge said there was no way Heather Camp could have consented to having sex after she had been shot, that the jury didn’t buy Carver’s claim that shooting Heather Camp was an accident, and that Carver was callous and showed total indifference to the victim’s life and situation after she had been shot.
Carver, a 40-year-old New Vienna resident, beat Heather Camp, shot her in the chest at close range on Feb. 17 in Highland, had sex with her as she was bleeding out, and refused to take her to the hospital.
Heather Camp died nearly two days after she was shot, according to a bill of particulars filed by the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office. Carver was arrested three days after the alleged shooting.
The bill says Carver admitted to beating Heather Camp, shooting her and having sex with her, although he maintained that the shooting was accidental as he was aiming the gun at Heather Camp to intimidate her.
Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins said after the sentence was passed that she was “tickled with the verdict, obviously. Give credit to detectives Vincent Antinore and Randy Sanders, and Lt. Brian McNeil. They did an excellent job and we got justice for Heather and her family.”
Collins also thanked the jury.
Closing arguments were heard from the prosecution and defense Thursday before the case went to the jury.
Collins gave a roughly 15-minute overview of the timeline of events that detailed the state’s position on the circumstances that occurred prior to Camp’s death, the shooting itself on Feb. 17, 2019, and the aftermath leading up to Carver’s apprehension in Dayton four days later.
She reaffirmed the state’s position that Carver was guilty of all counts in the six-count indictment.
Attorney John Cornely presented the defense’s side of the case, attempting to cast doubt on some of the witnesses’ testimony.
Addressing the jury, he queried the validity of the murder charge, posing the question that if Carver “purposely” intended to cause the death of Camp, as the murder count defined the crime, they why did he eventually agree to have her taken to the hospital.
Admitting that what his client did “wasn’t right,” he referred jurors to the one hour, 41-minute video they viewed Wednesday where he said Carver never said he pulled the trigger and that the gunshot was accidental.
“My client isn’t guilty of murder,” Cornely told the jury.
He disputed the rape charge, saying the evidence had shown that though Carver admitted the pair had sex following the shooting, that Camp was able to participate and wasn’t so impaired that she couldn’t resist.
The count of domestic violence was contested by Conrely as well, who claimed Carver and Camp weren’t a couple and didn’t live together.
The final charge of tampering of evidence, Cornely said, had been misstated or overstated by the prosecution, saying his client “simply returned the gun” to the person who loaned it to him, and though Carver removed the SIM card from his cell phone to avoid detection, he didn’t attempt to destroy or conceal clothing or other evidence.
Cornely completed his closing argument by telling the jury it should consider reckless homicide and assault rather than murder and domestic violence when returning its verdicts.
Collins offered a stern rebuttal of Cornely’s closing argument, calling the claim of an accidental shooting “ludicrous.”
She ripped into the defense’s version of the criminal counts against Carver. Starting at the lowest count and working her way up, Collins said that Carver knowingly tampered with or removed evidence, and also made an effort to hide evidence.
Referring to the domestic violence charge, she told the jury that it applied to the case since the evidence showed Camp endured a severe beating prior to the shooting and that the pair began living together in a camper on McVey Road near New Vienna for a time, later showing the jury a photo of one of the camper’s walls with “James & Heather” emblazoned on it.
The weapons under disability charge, she explained, meant that someone who had a prior felony conviction was prohibited from owning or using a firearm, pointing out that Carver had a previous felony conviction for domestic violence in Clinton County.
She told the jury that Carver had possessed a firearm knowingly, thereby violating the terms of a previous conviction.
Addressing the rape charge, she reasserted the state’s claim that due to the injuries suffered in the shooting, Camp was bleeding internally and had complained of back pain, and that in her weakened condition, was physically and mentally unable to resist.
“He had to know she was impaired,” she said, “because he did the shooting.”
On the charge of murder, Collins said that Carver purposely caused Camp’s death and there was no doubt that she died of a gunshot wound to the chest, saying, “the only reason to remove the gun from the holster and release the safety was to shoot Heather Camp.”
She said that more than likely, based on testimony from the emergency room physician at Greenfield Area Medical Center, Camp was already dead when Robert Kinnison took her there at 5:11 a.m. Feb. 19.