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Man accused of killing Metro East officer on bridge to St. Louis will represent himself

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EDWARDSVILLE — A man accused of striking and killing a Metro East police officer during a chase will act as his own attorney in a murder trial set for next month.

Caleb Campbell, 24, of Florissant, is accused of speeding away from police at about 3 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2021, before hitting Brooklyn police Officer Brian Pierce Jr. on the McKinley Bridge connecting St. Louis and Illinois.

Officer Brian Pierce, Jr.

Officer Brian Pierce Jr. of the Brooklyn, Illinois, Police Department. Pierce was fatally struck by a vehicle on the McKinley Bridge on Aug. 4, 2021.

Pierce, 24, was killed while attempting to set up spike strips on the bridge to stop Campbell’s fleeing car, police said at the time.

Campbell, whose middle name is Lawyer, reaffirmed in a hearing Monday that he would represent himself in the trial set for Dec. 12.

He faces five felony counts: first-degree murder, failure to report an accident involving injury or death, reckless homicide, failure to stop after having an accident and aggravated fleeing.

Campbell faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison should he be convicted under Illinois law governing deaths of police officers in the line of duty.

During more than two hours in court Monday, Judge Neil Schroeder denied multiple motions from Campbell including requests to dismiss the first-degree murder charge, to release Campbell on bail or furlough, and to have a court-appointed attorney act as standby counsel during trial.

Schroeder said he warned Campbell that he was putting himself at a disadvantage by deciding to act as his own attorney and would not be granted a standby lawyer.

“If you’re going to proceed Mr. Campbell, you’re going to be sitting at the table by yourself,” the judge said.

Schroeder advised Campbell that the trial is less than three weeks away and more than 100 jurors have already received a summons to appear for the case.

“You have undertaken a lot. It’s your life on the line, so it’s your right to do so,” Schroeder said. “But I’m going to expect you to be ready in three weeks.”

Campbell said he understood and would be prepared.

Campbell’s former attorney, Robert Bas, withdrew from the case in June. The court then appointed Campbell a lawyer with the Madison County Public Defender’s Office before Campbell’s request to represent himself was approved last month.

Campbell’s court filings so far have included a letter to the prosecutor on the case, Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Maricle, where he said he believes most of the charges against him will be dismissed at trial.

“The reason for this letter is to tell you that I’m willing to take probation,” he wrote. “My children really need me home.”

Campbell continued in the letter that he has facts to prove his innocence, “but I’m a reasonable person and I really do feel bad that the victim’s family (has) to suffer the loss of a loved one.”

Maricle said in court Monday that the case against Campbell will include surveillance footage of him leaving the Bottoms Up strip club in Brooklyn in a red Dodge Charger. Officers will testify they saw the Charger then flee a traffic stop and strike Pierce as it sped into Missouri, she said.

Police on scene at Bottoms Up Club

Police leave the Bottoms Up nightclub on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Brooklyn, Illinois, during an investigation. Brooklyn police officer Brian Pierce Jr. was fatally injured early Wednesday on the McKinley Bridge while trying to stop a car fleeing from the nightclub. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Campbell has previous felony convictions for resisting arrest and weapons offenses. He had a warrant out for his arrest at the time of Pierce’s death after he failed to appear in court for a 2017 weapons charge.

The officer had been working the night shift for the Brooklyn Police Department for roughly nine months before he was killed. He drove daily from Carbondale, Illinois, for the job, and also served as a lieutenant at a fire department in Jackson County, said his mother Tammy Pierce.

The mother said Monday she hopes Campbell representing himself doesn’t lead to delays causing a longer wait for the trial.

“My family can’t rest until this is over,” she said.

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