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BLOOMINGTON - With two high-profile murder cases possibly heading to trial and two difficult legal appeals on the horizon, McLean County First Assistant State's Attorney Kim Campbell will be a high-profile prosecutor in 2006.

Campbell, who was named the county's top assistant prosecutor two years ago, could be challenged as early as February, when she's scheduled to try Byron Merriweather, a Bloomington man accused of murder in a 2003 Miller Park shooting.

Prosecuting a Normal man accused of murdering an Illinois State University student, re-trying a Bloomington woman accused of suffocating her infant son and fighting to uphold the 1991 murder conviction of a Bloomington man in prison for killing his father are Campbell's other cases that could lead to courtroom action next year.

McLean County State's Attorney Bill Yoder said those are some of the toughest cases his office handles and it's not a coincidence they've been assigned to Campbell. "She's going to get the most serious and most difficult case because she's the most qualified to handle them," Yoder said in a recent interview.

That's what makes her one of The Pantagraph's 10 to Watch in 2006.

When the McLean County Board appointed Yoder state's attorney in December of 2002, he spoke with several Twin City legal experts to find the right person to serve as his top prosecutor. The search led him to Campbell, who was then an attorney in the public defender's office.

"She was the obvious choice, and I haven't come close to regretting it even once," Yoder said. "What drew my attention to Kim was the quality of work she did. Every day she works up here, I'm more and more convinced that I made the right decision.

James Knecht, an appellate judge with the state's 4th District Appellate Court, said he knew Campbell had a bright career ahead of her when she was a student in his criminal-law class at Illinois State University during the 1980s.

Knecht said he was pleased when she chose to attend law school. He also noted Campbell's return to McLean County in 1998 to work for the public defender's office after she spent several years in the Chicago area doing defense and appellate work.

McLean County Public Defender Amy Davis said she's always known Campbell to be an attorney who is well-versed in the law, competent in the courtroom and ethical. Having worked for the defense and prosecution sides is part of what has helped her develop into an excellent criminal attorney, Davis said.

Since returning to her hometown, Campbell has seemingly found her niche in the legal community, Knecht said. When he retired from teaching after 27 years at ISU, Knecht said he was delighted that the university hired her to continue teaching his class.

While she's currently content with being a prosecutor, Campbell said she has larger career aspirations. She acknowledged that some day she would like to become a judge or even McLean County's first female state's attorney after Yoder leaves office.

At least two of her colleagues see those goals as realistic. "I can see her in either role, as state's attorney or judge," Yoder said. "I expect one day she will be in one of those two roles, if not both, sometime during her career."

Knecht agreed.

"She certainly has potential to do more, whether it's as a state's attorney or judge," Knecht said. "From my perspective, I think she has the qualifications one would want in a judge. I'm already pleased she's a member of my profession. I think she'd be a fine judge."

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