Joseph Campbell sentenced to death of Montana neighbor Tim Newman

The vast Montana wilderness was a paradise for residents of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area—but how far would a man go to protect his piece of it?

A heated dispute over the country has killed 53-year-old Timothy Newman. His neighbor Joe Campbell claimed that he shot Newman when Newman tried to invade his property and drew a gun.

But was Newman’s death in October 2013 self-defense or murder?

For years, the residents of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area lived peacefully together. Located just south of Glacier National Park, those looking for quiet solitude bought small lots down the hill from public land to build small cabins and take advantage of the nearby fishing and hiking trails.

“It was a place to get away from it all and go upstairs on the weekends and let off steam and have fun,” neighbor Dan Della Rosa said on “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” which aired Wednesdays at 8/7c on oxygen.

Newman – whom his daughter described as a “real miner” – had been one of those people who found their fortune in the wilderness. He and his wife Jackie fixed up a cabin.

“I felt so blessed,” Jackie recalled of the couple’s life together. “We were blessed.”

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But trouble began when one of Newman’s neighbors, Joe Campbell, bought up hundreds of acres around the small cabins and refused to let anyone else use the long-established trails to get to the nearby national park.

The move infuriated neighbors who – according to MPs who were often called to the area – viewed Campbell as a “bully”.

In video taken in 2008 of hunters walking the country, Campbell can be seen confronting the men with a high-powered shotgun known as a “sweeper” in hand.

“You are on private property without a permit,” Campbell told the men.

Dan Della Rosa and his wife, Sue, wrote a letter to the district attorney asking him to do something about Campbell, but were told it was a civil matter. The Della Rosas and other families sued Campbell, and as part of a deal worked out by the attorneys, some of the families in the area were permitted to cross Campbell’s land to get onto public land.

Campbell even put up signs listing families with permission to use the trails — but Newman had not been part of the lawsuit. He didn’t believe Campbell had any right to keep him off the trails and used them anyway, often documenting his excursions with a video camera.

“That’s the goal to annoy us, I think, because it’s annoying,” he said in a video.

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Tension between the two men escalated even further after Newman began bringing bolt cutters and cutting open the padlocks Campbell had put on the gates to try to keep him and other intruders out of his property.

It all led to this fatal confrontation in October 2013.

Campbell told MPs on the day of the shooting that he and his wife, Tani, were walking down a trail toward their property when Newman began stalking them in his ATV. Tani went to call the sheriff, and Campbell said Newman got out of the ATV, grabbed his bolt cutters, and approached the lock on one of the gates before noticing Campbell was carrying a gun.

“He said, ‘Oh, you’re armed.’ And he started putting down the bolt cutters, and then he put both hands on his gun and he got up. And that’s when I pulled my gun…” Campbell told MPs while sitting in the back seat of a squad car. “I shot and he turned around. I thought I hit him, but I wasn’t sure. And he spun around and he still had the gun in his hands and he went down. I shot him in the back again.”

Campbell insisted he feared for his life and believed Newman would kill him. Montana state law allows residents to use deadly force if they feel threatened, and at first Campbell was allowed to go home.

“We didn’t arrest him because he claimed it was self-defense,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton told Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison.

But prosecutors began questioning the story after some of the details Campbell provided didn’t add up. Although he told MPs that Newman grabbed his gun first, the gun was found on the ground not far from his right hand, even though Newman had been left-handed.

An autopsy also revealed that the first shot was fired in Newman’s back – not in his chest as Campbell claimed.

“We learned from this autopsy that two shots were fired at Tim Newman. A shot went to his back, severed his spine and would have paralyzed him from the middle of his chest down in an instant.” said then Assistant Attorney General Mary Cochenour. “The other shot hit his hand first and then grazed his chest and whizzed past his head.”

A forensic crime scene analyst would also conclude that Newman had been shot in the back first after unsuccessfully attempting to recreate Campbell’s account of what happened.

Prosecutors concluded that Newman’s death was a homicide and arrested Campbell in February 2016.

It was the same conclusion drawn by many neighbors.

“We always knew when the guns were drawn that something was going to happen. We just didn’t know who would be on the receiving end,” said Sue Della Rosa.

A parade of neighbors took the stand to testify about Campbell’s aggressive protection of his country. Contractor LaMonte Moultray also took the stand to relate how, just two days before the shooting, Campbell threatened that Newman would “leave the mountain in a body bag.”

But on the witness stand, Campbell and his wife continued to insist that Newman threatened them.

“I was trying to stay alive,” said a tearful Campbell in the stands. “I thought of Tani, my children, grandchildren. It was him or me and I shot him. I did.”

There were two very different accounts of what happened that day and the jury was unable to unravel it. After hearing testimonies for three weeks, they returned hopelessly stuck in court and a trial was held.

Prosecutors planned to retry the case, but before they could, Campbell agreed to enter a “no contest” plea for involuntary manslaughter that did not require a guilty plea.

He received a 20-year sentence, but the court suspended it. While Campbell managed to avoid jail time, conditions surrounding the length of the sentence prevented him from returning to the estate he once loved.