By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dustin Camp's statements, taken just hours after the December 12, 1997, death of 19-year-old Brian Deneke during a street fight between football jocks and punk rockers, were obtained by the Dallas Observer this week through an open records request.
The confessions had not previously been made public and were not entered as evidence in Camp's murder trial, which ended in September with a conviction on the lesser felony charge of manslaughter. Camp, a football player and popular member of Tascosa High School's "jock" clique, received 10 years' probation, a sentence that outraged many Amarillo residents.
According to witnesses, Amarillo's high-school jocks frequently harassed the city's group of 200 or so punks, Goths, and skinheads. Those tensions led to the street brawl in an Amarillo shopping-center parking lot in which Deneke was killed and at least one jock was seriously injured.
Deneke's death and its aftermath were detailed in an October 21 Observer cover story, "Anarchy in Amarillo."
In his written statement, Camp, who was 17 at the time of Deneke's death, said, "I was just going to knock him [Deneke] down with my car. I [sic] was icy on the ground [and] my car slid. And I guess he slipped and my car went over him.
"I didn't know what to do so I took off and took my friends that were in the car home," the statement continues. "I went straight home after that."
In his taped oral confession to Amarillo police Sgt. Rudy Montano, Camp says in a trembling, tearful voice that he hit the brakes before striking Deneke: "...there was ice over there and when I hit my brake and it just kept...my car just kept going and the guy like slipped on the ice or something and the car went...went over him and I got scared and I took off."
Camp's story sharply conflicts with the eyewitness accounts of one of the passengers in his car, Nancy Elise Thompson. Thompson testified in court and told the Observer that Camp wheeled his car around and aimed for Deneke, who was standing directly in front of Camp's Cadillac with his arm upraised and holding a "black stick."
As he approached Deneke, Thompson said that Camp made the comment "I'm a ninja in my Caddy." After running over him, she testified Camp said, "I bet he liked that."
Deneke died at the scene from numerous injuries, including a fractured skull and crushed chest.
Contrary to his claim that he hit the brakes, Camp jumped a median and headed straight for Deneke without stopping, according to Thompson, who was seated alone in the back of Camp's 1983 Cadillac and would become the prosecution's most important witness.
In her written statement to police, also obtained by the Observer, Thompson says, "...Dustin headed straight for a guy who was standing on one of the medians on the parking lot. The guy had his back toward us. Right before we hit him, he turned and saw Dustin's car coming. We were going fast. Dustin was driving right at the guy. When we hit him, his torso came up on the hood toward us. Then he slid under the car. We hit the median he was standing on and I felt a big bump. I just prayed the bump was the median and not him."
Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo attorney who represents Brian Deneke's family, called Camp's claim that Deneke slipped and fell beneath his car an "incredible discrepancy," and deemed the written and oral confessions "absolutely critical information" that should have been entered as evidence during Camp's trial.
"It shows beyond any doubt that Dustin Camp was a liar who took absolutely no responsibility for what he did to this boy," Blackburn said Monday. "It proves he's a liar, and it also proves he's a remorseless liar. It raises some question about the seriousness of the state in even prosecuting Dustin Camp."
Potter County District Attorney Rebecca Clark said Monday there was no need to enter Camp's statements as evidence. "It was a self-serving statement," she said. "In that instance, there was nothing new that aided the prosecution or the defense."
Blackburn says he plans to file a wrongful death suit against Dustin Camp next week, before the second anniversary of Deneke's death on December 12.
Camp's attorney, Warren L. Clark, did not respond by press time to a request for comment. Earlier, Clark had told the Observer that Camp used his car as a weapon to defend a friend with whom Deneke was supposedly fighting. Clark employed this "self-defense of a third party" strategy during Camp's jury trial.
In a lengthy interview last month, Clark blamed Deneke's death on Camp's actions as well as the fact that the punk-rock enthusiast was taking part in a brawl and wielding a weapon.
Deneke's friends, Clark said, are understandably angry. "A good friend got run down. They're upset about it. They're never gonna forget it. OK? And they shouldn't. And here's the rub...they refuse to accept the fact that [Deneke's] behavior had a part in what happened."