Priscilla Machado suffered panic attacks for years after her brother was accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter and their parents in 2011.
But the 35-year-old told herself her fears were irrational. Her brother, Carlos Campos, was locked up in jail.
Now, those fears are real.
Last year, Hudson County Judge John Young dismissed the murder charges against Campos after years of competency hearings, seven years after the killings in Harrison, New Jersey. Multiple defense experts said Campos could not assist in his defense and was incompetent to stand trial. His own treating psychiatrist argued Campos was “malingering,” or faking mental illness.
“It is not substantially probable that defendant will regain his competence in the foreseeable future,” Young said in his decision.
He added, “the public interest is not served by depriving defendant of his constitutional rights.”
Young ordered Campos civilly committed to a psychiatric hospital in Morris County, saying he “presently poses a substantial risk to the safety of others in the community.”
By law, Campos is eligible for a review hearing every year. Machado, whose 3 year-old daughter and parents were stabbed to death, is terrified her brother could one day be out on the street. She said there was no other suspect.
“Nothing could prepare us for this outcome,” she said. “This is someone, who in his sickness, feels entitled to being in my life, to being in my family’s life. So, yeah, I’m afraid of one day him just knocking on my door.”
Machado said, in her grief, she relied on the criminal justice system to do the right thing.
“It’s shocking, that this was possible,” she said. “That seven years later, this is now a civil commitment issue.”
She added she has been told that one doctor has already recommended outpatient treatment for Campos.
“It’s very frightening, and part of the reason why I decided to say something and try to bring some attention to this situation is because I know what has happened,” she said. “I know my brother. I know what he’s capable of. I think of my brother when there’s a mass shooting, when there’s a tragedy like that.”
Machado wants to warn other victim’s families and survivors to be more involved in the legal process, adding the family had no say in the decision and were not interviewed by any mental health experts.
“I want people to know that things are not always what they seem,” she said. “I would want them to ask a lot of questions and I would want them to not assume that things are going to turn out one way because that’s what would make sense.”
Machado said her brother was being treated for depression at the time of the murders but there was no sign of violence. He is represented by the Office of the Public Defender, which declined repeatedly requests for comment. The judge and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office also declined comment.
Prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed the Judge’s decision.
Legal expert Shelley Albert, who has practiced for 30 years, said she has never seen a case where criminal charges in a murder case have been dismissed with no possibility they could be re-filed in the future.
“It is shocking,”she said, “especially with this level of crime. Absolutely he could get out and he could be walking the streets, there’s no question about it.”
Machado told the I-Team she is relying on her faith. She prays every Sunday at the Christian Community Presbyterian Church in Newark.
“I pray and I know, no matter what, because of the gospel, I know that ultimately, I’ll be fine,” she said. “I think of my daughter, and somehow it gives me courage.”