Prosecutors argue man accused of running down pedestrians had been ripped off while trying to buy meth

By Gary Walker

For one of the final witnesses against the man accused of mowing down people with his car on the Venice boardwalk in August 2013, county prosecutors called a local homeless man to testify that a drug deal may have played a role in triggering the violence.

L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Victor Avilla has argued in court that Nathan Campbell, who has pleaded not guilty to killing an Italian tourist and 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, was angry about being ripped off while trying to buy methamphetamine on the beach and intentionally targeted pedestrians in a fit of rage behind the wheel.

Jesse White, who often sleeps near the boardwalk, testified on May 19 that a short time before chaos erupted on the boardwalk he had been approached by two Caucasian men looking for drugs.

White, who is serving time in jail for assaulting a police officer, said the older of the two men asked him where they could buy some “tweak.” White told the court he referred them to an African-American youth who agreed to buy the drugs after taking money offered by the older man.

After more than 30 minutes, the older man left to try to find the youth who had taken off with his money. The younger of the two men who had approached White became agitated and said he was going to get his car, White testified.

“You point them out to me and I’ll hit them with my [expletive] car,” White recalled the younger man telling him before leaving the boardwalk.

White said it was 15 minutes later that the car began driving south along the boardwalk, striking pedestrians along the way.

White was unable to positively identify Campbell as the man who drove the car — and in this case as one of the men looking for drugs.

Westchester attorney James Cooper III, who is defending Campbell, pointed out under cross examination that White had in previous statements failed to identify Campbell in a six-person photo lineup.

Avila asked White about his prior run-ins with law enforcement, including a conviction for felony possession of concentrated cannabis and the more recent conviction for assault on a police officer. White also acknowledged during testimony that he has been diagnosed with a type of schizophrenia.

“Did you make any of this up about the younger white male or was that one of the voices that you hear?” Avila asked.

“No sir,” White responded.

“Out of all the people that are on Venice Beach, why did they come to you?” Cooper asked White. “You know where all the drug-sellers hang out, right?”

“I don’t know why,” White responded.

Prior to resting the prosecution’s case on May 22, Avila showed the jury autopsy photographs of the woman who was killed, and a former coroner’s office investigator testified that those injuries were “consistent to being struck by a car and thrown from it.”

The defense began presenting its case on Tuesday.