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May 23, 2012

Gibson faces death penalty

New Albany man charged in third murder; trials to be held separately

NEW ALBANY — William Clyde Gibson III now faces the death penalty.

The New Albany man, who was previously charged with murdering 75-year-old Christine Whitis, of Clarksville, and 45-year-old Karen Hodella, was formerly charged Wednesday with the murder of Stephanie Kirk, 35, of Charlestown, who was found buried in Gibson’s backyard in the 800 block of Woodbourne Drive in New Albany on April 27.

Gibson, 54, sat quietly and showed no emotion Wednesday as Floyd County Superior Court No. 1 Judge Susan Orth read the charges. He faces the death penalty for the murders of Whitis and Kirk, for committing several aggravating circumstances including criminal deviant conduct, and for being a habitual offender. He faces a third murder charge for the death of Hodella. All three cases will be tried separately, according to Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson.

“After much thought, and consultation with the victim’s families, I’ve decided to seek the ultimate penalty under Indiana law,” Henderson said following the hearing. “The absolute outrageous nature of what has been alleged to have taken place, the taking of human life and how that life was taken, as well as looking at the safety of the community, I chose to file [for] the death penalty.”

Whitis was found strangled in Gibson’s garage April 19, and Kirk, who had been missing since March 25, was found buried in his backyard eight days later. Hodella was found murdered near the Ohio River in January 2003. She had been missing since October 2002.

Gibson is charged with committing or attempting to commit criminal deviate conduct to both Whitis and Kirk, which includes forcing both victims to perform sex acts by “force or the threat of force.” One of the aggravating factors includes mutilation for allegedly cutting off the breasts of Whitis.

“To seek the death penalty is a decision not to be taken lightly,” Henderson said. “But the nature of these crimes, what we have accused Mr. Gibson of here, if these two crimes are not cause for the death penalty, then I don’t know what could be considered.”

Henderson called the acts he thinks Gibson committed an “outrageous disregard for human life.”

Henderson said Gibson would be tried in the Whitis murder first. The trial is set for Aug. 27, although that may be pushed back. He also said he did not seek the death penalty for Hodella’s murder due to the nature of the evidence and length of time that had passed since her murder.

Investigators have continued to follow missing person and murder leads which have led them to Bloomington, Utica and back to Gibson’s property. However, Henderson said he does not know of any evidence or possible new victims at this time. He said investigators have to follow every lead.

“It was time to move forward,” he said. “It’s time to bring these three case forward.”

Henderson is still waiting on Kirk’s toxicology report. He would not speculate on a cause of death until he sees the report and talks to the medical examiner. He believes Kirk was killed on Gibson’s property.

Gibson’s incarceration history in Indiana and Kentucky shows he spent a lot of time behind bars for various crimes, including sexual assault, auto theft, possession of stolen property and more.  

Gibson is being held without bond in the Floyd County Jail.

Gibson’s attorney is public defender Patrick Biggs. He left the courtroom immediately after the hearing with Gibson without talking to the media.

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