Jury finds Shenandoah man guilty of first degree murder in July shooting of father and son

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By Randy Arrington

LURAY, May 10 — Scott Simandl sat and stared at the wall directly in front of him inside the Page County Circuit Courtroom for more than seven hours on Wednesday, while 12 members of the community decided whether or not he had committed murder or simply defended himself when he shot and killed a Shenandoah man and wounded his son last summer.

Simandl occasionally closed his eyes for a few moments or scribbled on a notepad while sitting at the defendant’s table dressed in a dark suit. However, the 48-year-old engineer formerly employed by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck rarely showed any emotion during the eight-day trial — even when the verdict was read.

The jury entered deliberations at 12:42 p.m. The 12 members had heard testimony from more than 30 witnesses (with several being recalled) and examined dozens of exhibits serving as evidence — 65 entered by the prosecution alone. They had been taken outside as a group to view the Toyota Tundra 4×4 pickup truck where Jay Campbell died, and they saw the handgun that took his life. The jury would ask to examine the truck again during deliberations. They would also ask the judge for further instructions and clarification about “reasonable doubt” and the state’s burden of proof.

After working through lunch and postponing a dinner break to complete the process, the jury reached a unanimous decision and re-entered the courtroom on Wednesday at 7:57 p.m.

“We the jury find the defendant guilty,” Judge Clark A. Ritchie said as he read the verdict to the courtroom. Tears and hugs began rippling through a few among the small gallery in attendance. The circuit court judge repeated the phrase for all four felony charges placed against Simandl — from the first degree murder of Jay Campbell to the aggravated malicious wounding of Justice Campbell, and a firearms charge associated with each shooting.

“It’s what I wanted to hear,” Lisa Campbell said outside the courthouse on Wednesday evening after the verdict. “I’m a widow because of him.”

“He got what he deserved,” Jay’s sister Lois Jett added.

On July 21, 2022, Scott Simandl testified that he went down to the end of his gravel driveway to do some routine maintenance on bad spots created by delivery trucks trying to get up the steep grade. He first moved to the community in 2018, about five years after he began work at Merck. When working around his property, he routinely carried his Glock 9MM in a holster on his side because of his fear of bears, Simandl testified, which were shown coming onto the deck of his house at 225 Buzzard View Place on videos entered into evidence.

On that day, Simandl testified that Jay Campbell was slowly approaching him in his pickup truck when he pointed a pistol at him.

“When he came into view, he was reaching over the console…I did not know who he was…I never had spoken to him,” Simandl said on the stand. “He had one hand on the steering wheel…when he comes back around he’s got a gun pointed at me…10 feet or so away…still in motion coming at me…I feared for my life.”

What happened next is beyond dispute. Simandl openly admitted to shooting both Jay and Justice Campbell under questioning by his own attorney. However, he also claimed that both men had a gun and pointed it at him. While the fact that Simandl shot the Campbells was not disputed, the defense argued that the acts were in self defense, not done in malice and not premeditated. A key point in the case hinged on whether the jury believed the testimony of Simandl or that of Jay Campbell’s widow and his son Justice.

Despite being a practiced shooter and member of a sportsman club, Simandl testified that he turned his head as he “wildly fired six or seven shots” at the pickup while never hearing a shot in return. He also stated that he never approached the truck, the door to the truck remained shut, and he started back up his driveway to his home before turning around to see Justice approaching on a lawnmower.

Lisa Campbell testified that she saw her husband get into an altercation with a taller, slimmer man outside of his truck. She saw her husband turn to get into the truck and the other man pursued him. Whether or not the truck door was open when the shots were fired was a key part of the case in determining premeditation and malice versus self defense.

“He did nothing but lie. He tried to make me out a liar and I don’t lie,” Lisa Campbell said after the trial. “He did not tell the truth, but the truth came out.”

After hearing the first shots and coming down the road on the mower to his father’s truck, Justice got off the mower and then leaned into the truck, Simandl testified, before getting back on the mower and pointing what he believed to be the same gun at him.

“He had his left hand on the wheel and his right hand had a handgun…,” Simandl said. “He pointed the gun from the mower…he raised it and aimed…I fired seven or eight shots…couldn’t tell if he was hit…he tried to hide behind the mower…I emptied the clip.”

Justice testified that he was shot before he ever got off the lawnmower and then sought cover as the gunman continued to fire. He suffered several abdominal wounds, as well as a fractured ankle, and underwent at least two surgeries at the University of Virginia Medical Center. A report stated that “per hospital staff…the injuries to the surviving victim are severe and significant to cause physical impairment.”

Law enforcement investigators and experts testified that no weapon was found in Campbell’s truck or anywhere around it. The 16 shells recovered at the scene were all from Simandl’s 9MM, as were the four bullets that were recovered. A search of Simandl’s house found a large quantity of rifles and ammunition. Defense attorney Gene Hart argued that Campbell’s gun could have been removed from the scene before police arrived and that a gun safe in their home was never examined.

“They never opened it…Justice said his dad had two pistols,” Hart said in his closing argument. “You should do everything you can before you put a man on trial for murder…they didn’t make enough effort to get videos [that were missing from the security system at Simandl’s home]…there were no tests for residue [on Jay Campbell’s hands]…it could have been vital [evidence]…it could have been.”

After shooting Jay and Justice Campbell, the pharmaceutical engineer said he then walked back up his driveway, returned to the basement of his home, changed his shirt, reloaded his gun and called a friend who was an attorney. When asked why he reloaded the gun, Simandl replied: “Two guys had just pointed guns at me…at this point, I don’t know what’s going on.”

The attorney, who lived out of state and did not specialize in criminal law, recommended that Simandl seek a criminal lawyer and not speak to anyone, especially the police. However, when deputies with the Page County Sheriff’s Office arrived and attempted to take him into custody on July 21, 2022, the seemingly mild-mannered engineer admitted that when officers yelled conflicting commands of “Get on the f…ing ground” and “Get your f…ing hands in the air” that he responded: “F… you, come and get me.”

Hart said Jay Campbell may have been trying to send Simandl a message after he called local law enforcement on July 17, 2022 and again on July 21, 2022 to “check things out” at 357 Buzzard View Place, where the Campbells resided. The nature of those complaints were never divulged in court. However, Hart attacked the character of Justice Campbell, who is currently incarcerated on unrelated charges and openly admitted to a long criminal history when he served as the prosecution’s first witness.

“If a neighbor called the police on me, I would be upset,” Hart said. “A drug dealer, drug addict…sees the man that called the police and points a gun at him…what was the intention…maybe just to scare him…don’t worry about what’s happening at 357 [Buzzard View Place].”

Commonwealth’s attorney Bryan Cave questioned who may have deleted the “17 to 20 videos” missing from Simandl’s security system that included footage from the day of the shootings, but he told the jury that the evidence presented still supported the most severe charge of first degree murder.

“It’s been a long [eight] days, but it’s been an even longer 10 months for the Campbell family,” Cave said as he started his closing remarks on Thursday. “Take a look at the evidence and apply it to the instructions you have been presented…even though [the Campbells] never fired a shot, [Simandl] got off 16 rounds…was belligerent to law enforcement…gives them the finger and says ‘F… you’…and he didn’t delete the videos even though no other cell phones are attached to the Blink account.”

“There was some sort of interaction…Mrs. Campbell saw her husband chatting with a taller man…Jay got back in his truck…she saw the other figure all but go into the truck after him,” Cave continued. “There is no way those injuries happen [to Jay] unless that [truck] door is open.”

In addition to Simandl testifying on his own behalf, the defense called two other witnesses — co-workers of the defendant at Merck’s Elkton plant — who gave glowing character testimony about Simandl’s competence in the workplace. They could not speak to any relationship outside of work for the fellow Merck employee who lived alone and had no children. The prosecution called more than two dozen witnesses, mostly law enforcement experts who handled various aspects of the investigation.

The defense entered two motions to strike the charges — one after the conclusion of the commonwealth’s case and again after the defense presented its evidence. Both motions were denied by Judge Ritchie.

The jury had the option to convict Simandl on lesser charges. The first degree murder charge could have been lowered to either second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, if the jury had questioned the presence of malice or premeditation. The aggravated malicious wounding charge could have been lowered to malicious wounding, unlawful wounding or assault and battery, according to instructions that the jury received from Judge Ritchie.

After Thursday’s proceedings, Simandl was remanded to the custody of the Page County Sheriff’s Office where he will continue to be held in jail without bond until his sentencing hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. All motions prior to sentencing must be filed by Friday, June 30 — with replies being filed by Monday, July 31.

For more information, a criminal case file search may be conducted at https://www.vacourts.gov/courts/circuit/page/home.html



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