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Neighbors' Feud Over Montana Land Ends in Fatal Shooting — What Really Happened?
“Some people are greedy," Bruce Herring said on Snapped of Joe Campbell blocking people from public trails that crossed his property. "He just wanted it all for himself …several times Campbell had stopped people on their horses and actually pointed guns at them, told them to turn around.”
A Montana man gave his life for the land he loved, after a bitter, years-long dispute with a neighbor came to a violent end.
“We know there’s history,” Leo Dutton, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff, said on Snapped, airing at 6/5c on Sundays on Oxygen. “We’ve been there multiple times. This is something that we had hoped would be a day that would never come.”
When 67-year-old Joe Campbell shot and killed his neighbor, 53-year-old Timothy Newman, he told sheriff’s deputies it was in self-defense, after an argument turned ugly near a locked gate on Campbell’s land. But knowing the long history between the neighbors, deputies took a closer look into if it was really a use of Montana’s “Stand Your Ground” law, or if the shocking conclusion to the feud was actually murder.
How did Tim Newman die?
Tani Converse called 911 near Flathead National Forest in Montana to report her husband, Joe Campbell, was “having an altercation with the neighbor” on Oct. 18, 2013.
“The neighbor ran us down with an ATV and he’s just ranting and raving at us … we’ve had quite a bit of problems with him before,” Tani said on the call.
Before a deputy could get to the Diamond Bar X area of the forest, Tani called 911 again.
“The altercation with the neighbor — there was shots fired and one of ‘em's down,” she said.
When deputies got to the area, they found Campbell standing on one side of a gate, and Tim Newman, lying on his back, spread-eagle, on the other side. On the ground near Newman were bolt cutters and a gun.
Campbell told deputies the same story as his wife: Newman had been following the couple on a four-wheeler as they took a walk and threatened to cut a lock on a gate on Campbell’s land, sparking an argument between the men.
“It happened really fast,” Campbell told deputies during an interview. “He reached around behind him, and he pulled out his gun. I don’t know if he fired or not. His gun was pointing at me. And that’s when I drew my gun.”
Campbell admitted to shooting Newman twice in self-defense. Much of his story added up: Newman’s four-wheeler was found near the area. All the gun shell casings were on Campbell’s land, and his side of the gate, indicating he shot Newman from his property. Newman’s gun was found next to him on the ground.
Why did neighbors Joe Campbell and Tim Newman have a years-long feud?
Deputies and neighbors were well aware of the ongoing dispute between Joe Campbell and Tim Newman. Although they initially got along well, in 2000, Campbell and a partner began buying up nearly 600 acres of available land in the area.
“Joe bought up land, and didn’t want anybody crossing it,” Dutton said. “Tim took offense to that. And that’s where the dispute came about.”
The land in question included a historical path, called The Pony Trail, that had been used by everyone in the area since the early 1900s.
“It’s a way to get to public land, and go through Joe’s land,” Dutton explained. “He felt that people were abusing the privilege of crossing his land, and not respecting whatever he had, so he locked the gates.”
Newman disagreed with blocking the public from getting to public lands, and he wasn’t the only one. Many neighbors had also had issues and run-ins with Campbell over the years.
“Joe was always rubbing everybody the wrong way,” Dan Della Rossa, a neighbor, said on Snapped. “And saying things and doing things by actions that weren’t part of the community up there. That we were all used to.”
Neighbors told deputies Campbell became a different man after he bought up all the available land.
“As soon as he got that other land, he just changed 100 percent,” Bruce Werring, a friend of Tim Newman, said on Snapped. “Wouldn’t talk to you. Just complained about everything. If you crossed any part of his land, he was having a fit.”
Neighbors told deputies they’d tried to reason with Campbell about blocking them from the public forest.
“We tried to have a community meeting to talk about it,” Sue Della Rossa, a neighbor, said on Snapped. “He came to that community meeting and basically said, ‘I own the land, I can do what I want.’”
Neighbors also reported that Campbell had threatened them with violence over the lands. Josslyn Aberle and her father tried to ride horses on the Pony Trail one day, only to find Campbell’s locked gate blocking them, as well as Campbell himself. After her father and Campbell got into a fight, Aberle said Campbell grabbed his gun.
“Joe grabbed the shotgun and started waving his hands and waving the shotgun to spook the horses,” Aberle said on Snapped. “And then Joe takes the shotgun and points it at us. I was scared. It was just so surreal … I’m in my backyard and this crazy man is waving a shotgun at us.”
The situation got so bad, a group of residents wrote a letter to the sheriff’s office and county attorney about the threats in Sept. 2009. Ten families, including the Newmans, also filed a lawsuit, but it was too costly to keep up.
Neighbors told deputies Newman purposely started cutting the locks on Campbell’s gates to try and get in front of a judge and explain the problems. But in August 2013, just two months before the shooting, all charges were dropped against Newman.
“When Joe Campbell found out the charges were dropped, he became very irate, and made threats to people like, ‘The next time you see Tim, it’s gonna be in a body bag,’” Dan Della Rossa said. “Those were his exact words.”
Tim Newman also began carrying a weapon with him.
“I’m carrying it because I’m afraid of Joe Campbell, and I’m afraid he’s going to pull a gun on me,” Sue Della Rossa said of his reasoning.
What did forensics and ballistics experts say about Tim Newman's death?
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s office worked to prove if the shooting of Tim Newman was really self-defense on Joe Campbell’s part. Campbell had told deputies that when Newman grabbed his weapon, he then grabbed his own gun, and shot Newman in the hand. When the shot spun Newman around, Campbell said he then shot him again in the back.
But when experts looked at the bullet in Newman’s spine, that story didn’t add up.
“The angle indicated the opposite of what he said,” Dutton said. “That’s where our alarm bells went off. ‘This is wrong — this didn’t happen the way he said.’”
Experts also looked at Newman’s body position, and found that didn’t match Campbell’s story of self-defense.
“It was shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Tim was turning away and running away when he was shot in the back,” Sue Della Rossa said.
Forensics determined the second gunshot to Newman’s front happened after he was already laying on the ground. Another alarm bell sounded for deputies when they found Newman’s gun laying by his right hand, since Newman is left-handed.
“I don’t think Tim ever drew a gun,” Dutton said. “I think it was pulled out of the holster and placed by his right hand. I think it was staged after the fact.”
In February 2016, Joe Campbell’s murder trial began. But a mistrial was declared after a hung jury. Before a second trial could start, Campbell took a plea deal for 20 years of probation: a shock to Newman’s friends and loved ones.
“I guess a good thing to come out of it … he was banned from the mountain for 20 years,” Dan Della Rossa said. “Can’t own a firearm for 20 years. And he had to sell his properties. And so just not having him around gave us a peace of mind. We can go up there and enjoy life again and return to normal.”
In 2016, Jackie Newman, Tim’s wife, settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Joe Campbell, but the terms were not publicly disclosed.
“Tim didn’t die completely in vain,” Werring said. “There’s still access to the national forest for the general public, for the average guy. And that’s something that I’m grateful to those that made that happen.”
Watch all-new episodes of Snapped on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen and the next day on Peacock.