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2 contractors face sentencing in deadly Philly building collapse

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Dino Hazell / AP

Emergency personnel respond to a building collapse in downtown Philadelphia, where the city fire commissioner says as many as eight to 10 people are believed trapped in the rubble, Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

PHILADELPHIA — Two demolition contractors being sentenced in a Philadelphia building collapse believe they bear some responsibility for the six deaths that resulted, but they have also called themselves scapegoats for the people who hired them.

Prosecutors argue that contractor Griffin Campbell cut corners on the job, causing a four-story brick wall to collapse on an adjacent thrift store in June 2013, trapping 19 people inside. Thirteen people survived.

Campbell, 51, a married father of four from North Philadelphia, was being paid a fraction of the going rate for the job. During his trial, Campbell described himself as a scapegoat for the architect overseeing the demolition of a seedy downtown block.

Prosecutors on Friday will seek a 25- to 50-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and other charges, according to a sentencing memo. A jury cleared him of third-degree murder at a trial.

"Those buildings sat there a long time. They were dangerous," William Hobson, a lawyer who represents Campbell, said Thursday. "To take them down, they hired a guy who basically spent more time running a lunch truck. They were doing it on the cheap."

Subcontractor Sean Benscop pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter counts, but could get far less time for his trial testimony against Campbell. Benschop said he was using heavy equipment nearby when the wall crashed onto a Salvation Army store, instead of doing the delicate job by hand.

"When I saw the building like that, I should have walked away," Benschop testified, explaining why he pleaded guilty in the case. "I had my family to feed and I had bills to pay."

He faces a maximum 10 to 20 years in prison. Campbell turned down the chance to forge a similar plea.

One survivor lost both legs after spending 13 hours trapped in the rubble. A dozen other people were injured.

Many of the families have filed civil lawsuits against building owner Richard Basciano, the Salvation Army and others.

The city, meanwhile, has adopted more stringent rules for getting demolition permits.

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