By GARY POPP
NEW ALBANY —
A woman broke down in sobs as she stepped from a courtroom Wednesday in reaction to hours of graphic photos being displayed of murdered Christine Whitis, one of three women William Clyde Gibson III was accused last year of killing.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson called the third day of testimony in Gibson’s capital murder trial the most difficult day for Whitis’ friends and family, as photographs and video of the Clarksville woman’s remains were shown on a large projection screen in Floyd County Superior Court No. 1.
Gibson, 56, New Albany, was charged in the murder of Whitis, 75, on April 19, 2012, a day after her remains were found by Gibson’s sisters in the attached garage of his Woodbourne Drive home.
“I can’t think of another case that I’ve tried, and I’ve done a number of difficult cases, that was any more emotional on the family and all those involved,” Henderson said after the trial recessed for the day. “I hesitated several times before I put the worst of the worst up, but it had to be done. It was hard for the family, but important.”
While the investigation was handled by the New Albany Police Department, Indiana State Police Sgt. William Wibbels served as a crime scene investigator and spent the first five hours Wednesday providing testimony from the witness stand.
Wibbels had taken the photographs of Whitis’ remains that were Henderson’s focus most of the day.
Many of the nearly 20 family and friends, as well as the jury — which has been sequestered from Dearborn County — responded with tears and quiet gasps to the images of Whitis’ nude and contorted remains lying face down on the concrete floor of Gibson’s garage.
With Wibbels seated at the witness stand, Henderson submitted other evidence that had been collected from the scene.
Where police located the evidence fits the prosecution’s narrative of how the crime unfolded: Gibson assaulted Whitis in the living room of the home, then dragged her lifeless body into the garage — a narrative Gibson also provided to police the day after his arrest.
The state claims that after Whitis arrived at Gibson’s home on April 18, 2012, she declined his sexual advances, causing him to become enraged and strangle her. Whether Whitis died from the strangulation instantly or during the following hours and additional abuse has not been made clear in court.
The evidence included the kitchen knife believed to have been used by Gibson to remove Whitis’ right breast; a pair of eyeglasses matching the glasses Whitis wore in her driver’s license photograph; a single white bra clasp that had been found on the floor of Gibson’s living room; and the blood-stained bra without a clasp that was found clutched in Whitis’ right hand.
Three small silver buttons, which had also been found in the living room, were also submitted as evidence. The buttons are believed to have come from Whitis’ shirt, which was first found by police around the shoulder area of Whitis’ remains and which was also introduced as evidence Wednesday.
All the buttons are of the same shape and size and share the same inscription: Haberdasher Sport.
Other items of evidence, however, also took center stage on Wednesday.
An open box of Glad trash bags and a chain saw found next to Whitis’ remains were highlighted in the photographs, and continue to be a point of contention between prosecutors and Gibson’s court-appointed attorney, J. Patrick Biggs.
The state has hinted during the trial that Gibson intended to use the plastic bags and chain saw to remove the body from the garage. But Biggs has pointed out that both of the items are commonly kept in garages, especially for a person who was once in the tree-trimming business.
Henderson touched on the proximity of the bags and chain saw to the body, asking Wibbels his perspective of finding the items lying next to the corpse. “I would find that odd,” Wibbels said.
Henderson also showed the jurors a wadded up bulk of used duck tape, which brings into question whether GIbson had, at some point, bound Whitis with the tape.
But the tape also is another point of contention with the defense.
Indiana State Police forensic scientist Paulita McGuire testified the condition of the tape prevented her from determining if it had or hadn’t been used in the crime.
Gibson is also charged with the murder of Stephanie Kirk, 35, Charlestown, who was found buried in Gibson’s backyard April 27, 2012, and Karen Hodella, 45, whose body was found in the Ohio River in 2003.
When the trial resumes Thursday, Henderson said he will first call a Jefferson County Medical Examiner to testify, and also expects to hear from the employee of a company that installed a security system in Gibson’s home. Henderson expects the prosecution will rest its case Friday.