Crime

Man pleads guilty to killing Dilworth nursery owner; lawyer blames extortion for sex

Kevin DeJesus, second from right, with 16th Circuit Chief Public Defender Harry Dest, center, and an interpreter, right, as DeJesus pleaded guilty to the killing of Jesse Campbell Thursday in court.
Kevin DeJesus, second from right, with 16th Circuit Chief Public Defender Harry Dest, center, and an interpreter, right, as DeJesus pleaded guilty to the killing of Jesse Campbell Thursday in court. Andrew Dys

Kevin DeJesus admitted Thursday that he shot Dilworth nursery owner Jesse Campbell on Jan. 5 at his Lake Wylie home.

DeJesus will spend 12 years in prison and then be deported.

DeJesus’ lawyer said Campbell’s “secret double life” of extortion for sex led to the vicious death. There was a struggle for a gun after Campbell refused to pay DeJesus for work done at the home unless DeJesus performed a sex act on him, according to testimony Thursday. Campbell was shot in the head, under the ear.

Prosecutors and the defense attorney agreed the case was not murder. It was voluntary manslaughter, a “heat of passion” killing, they said. The two sides negotiated the plea bargain and sentence.

Prosecutors said in court that Campbell had a pattern with Hispanic workers of withholding pay for sex.

DeJesus admitted that he shot Campbell. York County deputies found DeJesus when they matched paint and a broken taillight from the getaway vehicle to DeJesus’ truck.

Campbell was a “beloved member of the community,” prosecutors said.

He ran Campbell’s Greenhouse in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte for decades and was formerly a teacher at Myers Park High School. Campbell had a legion of loyal customers who were stunned by his death.

But why he died, based on Thursday’s in-court revelations, was even more shocking.

After the hearing, two longtime employees of Campbell’s, Debbie Capps and Brad Miller, were on the verge of tears. Campbell was a wonderful, gentle man, they said, and he was the shooting victim – not DeJesus.

“It is almost like Jesse got killed twice,” Capps said of the gut-wrenching testimony.

Miller said the greenhouse business continues in Campbell’s memory. A former science teacher whose plants, especially orchids, were prized, Campbell was a caring and decent person who was loved by many, and still is, Miller said.

“Jesse Campbell brought so much beauty to the city of Charlotte, it is important that we carry on and keep that beauty alive,” Miller said.

Campbell’s family members were in court and did not speak during the hearing.

But Campbell’s friends and family heard 16th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson state that Campbell had, in this case and at other times with other Hispanic men he hired, “refused to pay them unless they had sex with him.”

DeJesus was more than a casual employee. He did work so often at the house along the shore of Lake Wylie in York County, S.C., that he could come and go as he pleased with his own key. After weeks of cleaning, household chores and landscaping work, on Jan. 5 DeJesus wanted to be paid.

DeJesus’ lawyer, Harry Dest, 16th Circuit Chief Public Defender, said DeJesus shot Campbell after a struggle for the gun that Dest said Campbell had.

“Mr. Campbell tried to use his position of authority to try and engage in sexual acts,” Dest said. “He forced himself on my client.”

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