VALPARAISO — Just minutes before he was sentenced to 55 years behind bars for murdering the mother of three of his children, former Gary and Hammond police officer Kevin Campbell stood in the courtroom and reiterated his innocence.
"I am not responsible for Tiara's (Thomas) death, but someone is," Campbell said. "I promise I will not rest until I find out who."
Campbell, 33, who wore orange jail garb and shackles, apologized to Thomas' family and friends, who filled one side of the courtroom for the sentencing.
"I was so busy working and protecting the streets that I failed to protect my treasure at home," he said. "She can never be replaced."
Porter County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost criticized Campbell for taking the opportunity to once again hurt the grieving family and cast doubt on who carried out the murder.
"How dare him," Frost said. "They know him just fine. He's the man who killed their daughter."
As far as Campbell's claims of wanting to seek out the real killer, Frost said, "All he has to do is look in the mirror."
A jury found Campbell guilty in January of murdering Thomas, 30, by sneaking into her Portage apartment during the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 2015, and repeatedly shooting her. Prosecutors argued he carried out the murder, in part, to get out of paying $355 a week in child support creating a "financial quagmire" that already had resulted in his vehicle being repossessed, his mortgage payments falling behind and numerous bill collectors hounding him on his cellphone.
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Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford said Campbell's lack of a criminal record was neutralized during sentencing by carrying out the crime while serving as a police officer and leaving his children without parents. Bradford said Campbell carefully planned the murder using his children to obtain a key to the apartment, learn when Thomas' fiance would be away at work and got the children out of the apartment for the murder with an unusual mid-week visitation.
Campbell, who will have to serve 75 percent of his sentence starting from the time of his arrest on Dec. 3, 2015, informed the court of his intention to appeal. He was appointed a county public defender after saying he could not afford to continue paying for private attorneys.
Bradford said he would request Campbell be placed in protective custody while in prison because of the risks former police officers face among other inmates. Campbell is prohibited from having contact with the three children he had with Thomas.
Thomas' brother, Michael Thomas, said the murder has left him grappling with the question of who is the victim.
After listing the numerous life opportunities now denied to his sister, Michael Thomas said he determined it would be selfish to refer to anyone but his sister as the victim. This includes her children, he said.
"They will not assume the role of the victim," he said.