Plot to kill 3 nets 20 years - East Valley Tribune: Home

Plot to kill 3 nets 20 years

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Posted: Saturday, January 8, 2005 6:10 am | Updated: 7:58 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Derrick Champa thought $10,000 and a stone-cold killer would end his problems.

It bought him a 20-year prison sentence instead.

On Friday, Champa left the comforts of his Paradise Valley home, his three children and his wife to appear in Maricopa County Superior Court to be formally sentenced and hauled away after a five-minute proceeding.

What would drive a businessman with no criminal past, who was once a military police officer, and who volunteered for several nonprofit groups to seek out a hit man to kill the father and two sons who he believed were out to ruin his business?

He said nothing to the court. His wife and two friends had nothing to say either. Two of the three men whom Champa wanted dead stayed silent, too.

"I believe he snapped and acted in a way that was aberrant," his attorney, Clark Derrick, said.

Derrick said Champa’s life was fine until he bought DJ Grading from Valley resident James Dunn and his sons, Ricky and Robert.

Champa told an undercover Glendale detective Jan. 30 that Ricky Dunn was an employee for a while and did side jobs using Champa’s equipment and crews and "screwed me financially."

Robert and James Dunn took away his top three customers and set up their friends in a competing business, Champa told the detective in a tape-recorded conversation.

Prosecutor Doc Shreve said the Dunns have a vastly different version of what transpired, basically that Champa wasn’t a very good businessman and his employees left him.

Either way, Champa claims he was under tremendous stress and he told a psychiatrist that when he looked back at the videotape of him in his encounters with the undercover officer, he felt like he was watching a different person.

Dr. Jack L. Potts wrote in a letter to the court that Champa’s behavior was "atypical and aberrant" and his judgement impaired at the time he enlisted the help of a supposed killer. Champa believes he can’t depend on others to share his burdens, according to Potts.

"Mr. Champa is an individual who, because of his head-of-household responsibilities and personality structure, tends to not reach out to others to resolve problems," Potts wrote.

At an April bail hearing, about a dozen friends told Judge Ronald Reinstein they were stunned but still stood by Champa.

Reinstein said Friday he could understand Champa’s business problems to a point.

"But people deal with that in different ways than you did," Reinstein said.

Champa also seemed out of his league in talking with the undercover officer.

He asked that one son be killed by lacing an illegal drug with poison to appear as if he overdosed.

And then the officer brought up the subject of price.

"Well, to be honest with you, I have no idea what the market’s paying for that. I have no idea," Champa said.

The officer suggested $10,000 because of the difficulty.

"There’s more evidence that can be left on a drug overdose than there is with a, you know, a cold shotgun to the face," the officer said.

Champa wanted only Ricky Dunn killed immediately and the brother months down the road.

"Actually, I kind of think I’d kind of like to do it myself to honest with you. That’s probably sick but . . ." Champa said.

Derrick said Champa never really made a firm deal for the father.

And Derrick said Champa even tried to back out of the deal but was told by a go-between there would be trouble if he did.

Shreve said the Dunns were extremely traumatized to know their lives had been targeted.

"The defendant wanted to wipe out an entire family," she said.

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