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Driver guilty of second-degree murder of Italian honeymooner at Los Angeles beach boardwalk

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LOS ANGELES — A driver who barreled down the tourist-crowded Venice Beach boardwalk on a summer afternoon, killing an Italian honeymooner and injuring 17 other people, was convicted Friday of second-degree murder and other charges.

Nathan Campbell was seeking revenge after being ripped off in a $35 drug deal on Aug. 3, 2013 and deliberately aimed his Dodge Avenger at vendors and tourists on the popular walkway, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila told jurors.

Campbell, 39, faces up to life in prison when sentenced Aug. 5 for the murder of Alice Gruppioni, prosecutors said. He was also convicted on 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 10 counts of leaving an accident scene.

Campbell had said he was trying to reverse when the car slipped into drive, prosecutors said. A lawyer who initially represented Campbell blamed a faulty shift.

At trial, defense lawyer James Cooper III acknowledged Campbell killed Gruppioni and caused the carnage but said he had tried to avoid hitting them and wasn't guilty of murder.

Witnesses said Campbell was grinning as his car jumped a curb and snaked through the crowd, hitting Gruppioni and carrying her 300 feet on the hood before she fell to her death.

Gruppioni, 32, was honeymooning with her husband from Bologna, Italy.

Her widower, Christian Casadei, fought back tears during the trial as he described trying to pull her into a doorway as the car bore down on them. Casadei said she died as he held her hand.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2013 file photo, a card showing the photo of Italian newlyweds Alice Gruppioni, left, and her husband Christian Casadei, is placed on a makeshift memorial for Gruppioni along Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County prosecutors say Nathan Campbell was angry about a drug deal gone bad and targeted vendors and tourists on the popular walkway. The 39-year-old Campbell was convicted Friday, June 5, 2015, in the August 2013 death of Alice Gruppioni. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2013 file photo, a card showing the photo of Italian newlyweds Alice Gruppioni, left, and her husband Christian Casadei, is placed on a makeshift memorial for Gruppioni along Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County prosecutors say Nathan Campbell was angry about a drug deal gone bad and targeted vendors and tourists on the popular walkway. The 39-year-old Campbell was convicted Friday, June 5, 2015, in the August 2013 death of Alice Gruppioni. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

A lawyer for Casadei and Gruppioni's family said they were grateful Campbell was held "criminally responsible for causing this tragedy."

"We deeply miss Alice and our hearts will always be with our beautiful wife and daughter," said a statement from attorney Gregory Bentley.

At trial, prosecutors showed video of panicked pedestrians trying to dodge the car as it hit speeds of 35 mph.

Avila told jurors that Campbell sought to run down the drug dealer he paid who never returned with methamphetamine for himself and a friend.

"Point them out, I'll run them over," Campbell told a homeless man before heading to his car, Avila said.

Prosecutors sought a first-degree murder conviction, but withdrew premeditation allegations when jurors got hung up on their third day of deliberations Friday, prosecution spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.

Campbell, a transient from Colorado with a history of petty crimes, surrendered in neighboring Santa Monica two hours later.

Campbell was legally drunk. He told police he drank vodka after the incident. He had been fired two months earlier from managing a sobriety residence after abusing alcohol and drugs.

Cooper told jurors that his client swerved to avoid people, hitting tents, an ATM, a row of bikes and a mannequin.

"Yes, my client did cause this tragic, nonsensical event," Cooper said in his closing argument. "Mr. Campbell is a killer. However, unintentional killings are not murder."

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