“I forgive him”: Family of Jo Deann Campbell opens up before her killer’s execution


HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — Christopher Eugene Brooks is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday at 6 p.m.

Brooks was convicted of raping, robbing and murdering Jo Deann Campbell in her Homewood apartment in 1992. She was 23 years old.

Days before the scheduled execution, Jo Deann’s older sister, Corinne Campbell, received a Facebook message from a close friend of Jo Deann’s.

The message contained an audio recording of Jo Deann’s outgoing message on her answering machine.

“Hi! It’s that time of year again. I want to wish you and all a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah and a happy new year,” the cheerful voice chimes.

“It brings two feelings,” Corinne Campbell said. “It brings one of just like– chilling, and one of just, wow! That’s really her. And that was 23 years ago.

“It’s difficult to describe. She’s just full of life and loved people, and people loved her.”

The message would eventually become one piece of what Campbell calls “overwhelming” evidence that Brooks killed her sister.

It happened on Dec. 30, 1992.

Brooks, who’d met Jo Deann Campbell when they worked at nearby summer camps, paid her a visit, unannounced.

Corinne Campbell said Jo Deann and Brooks never had a romantic relationship, and that Jo Deann was known for staying in touch with her friends from camp.

Jo Deann was working as a training manager at Chili’s on Highway 280, when Brooks and a friend, Robert Leeper, dropped in.

Campbell said Jo Deann agreed to let Brooks and Leeper spend the night at her apartment in Homewood.

The next day, Jo Deann did not show up for work.

Campbell remembers the moment when police found her sister’s body, bludgeoned, naked from the waist down, and shoved under her bed.

“You just lose every ounce of everything, when policemen saw the body under the bed and said, ‘Everyone out,'” Campbell said.

It took investigators a few days to find their suspects.

“Anyone that came in the house, I just– I just remember thinking, ‘My gosh! Did you do this? Do you know anything about this?’ Campbell said. “I just kind of remember just being real suspicious of everyone that came around, even though they loved her and had nothing to do with it. It just was a kind of edgy time.”

Campbell said police used a credit card that Leeper and Brooks had taken from Jo Deann to catch them in Columbus, GA, where they lived.

Campbell said Leeper and Brooks stole Jo Deann’s car and several objects from her apartment, including her answering machine. She said the two men had recorded their own outgoing message, but when police flipped the tape over, they heard Jo Deann’s cheerful greeting.

Leeper was sentenced to time served in jail, and was released after pleading guilty to using Campbell’s credit card.

He was cleared of his murder charge, as investigators found no DNA evidence linking him to Jo Deann’s rape or killing.

While Brooks awaits his execution, his lawyers have sought multiple appeals and stays, but none have been granted.

On Wednesday, Brooks’s attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, while the Diocese of Birmingham asked Governor Robert Bentley to stay the execution.

“He has a right to do that, and if it’s granted, it’s granted. We’ll live through it,” Campbell said. “We’ve lived through 23 years of missing (Jo Deann), so we’ll live through another however many years it is of whatever it takes to end this.”

When asked if she felt justice was being done, Campbell said she was not sure.

“I have to say that I’ve never been a big proponent of the death penalty. I don’t know that I ever will be, but it is what it is, and it’s fair,” Campbell said.

Campbell said while she and her family will be in Atmore, near the Holman Correctional Facility, where Brooks will be put to death, she is unsure whether or not the family will witness the execution.

But Campbell knows what her last words to Brooks would be: “I forgive you.”

“I think all of us would love to hear him say, ‘I did this. I’m sorry.’ But that may not ever come, and that’s probably reality,” Campbell said. “So I forgive him. I did that a long time ago. It’s the only way I can live, to get through every day, is just to forgive him.”

Copyright 2016 WIAT CBS 42 News

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