By GARY POPP
NEW ALBANY —
Mike Whitis testified last week that he had been childhood friends with William Clyde Gibson III.
But, after a jury decided Tuesday to sentence Gibson to death for killing his mother, 75-year-old Christine Whitis, he said he and his family were pleased justice had been served.
“It seems like it makes her life worth more — if the price to be paid is so serious, and that is what we were hoping for,” said Whitis, 57. “It is good to realize that 12 of his peers saw that her life was worth the ultimate price.”
During the trial, Whitis had been called by the prosecution to provide a testimony, where he explained he has known Gibson since he was born.
The Whitis and Gibson families have deep ties, as Christine Whitis, Clarksville, and Gibson’s mother had been best friends.
Gibson, 56, New Albany, told police after his arrest that Christine Whitis had even baby-sat him as a child.
“It has been the most difficult thing that I have ever faced,” Whitis said of his mother’s brutal murder and the subsequent court proceedings, some of which included the family looking at heinous photos from the crime scene and an autopsy on a large projection screen in the Floyd County Superior Court No. 1 courtroom.
The discovery of Whitis’ remains by Gibson’s sisters April 19, 2012, led to the uncovering of the remains of Stephanie Kirk, 35, Charlestown, who was found buried in Gibson’s backyard April 27, 2012.
Gibson would later admit to killing Karen Hodella, 45, whose body was found in the Ohio River in 2003.
Whitis has previously referred to his mother as an angel that led to the uncovering of Hodella’s and Kirk’s deaths.
“I feel like someone sent her [Christina Whitis] there on a mission, and she saved two other families from not knowing what happened to their daughters and loved ones,” he said.
A jury sequestered from Dearborn County deliberated for nearly four hours Tuesday afternoon before reaching a consensus to send Gibson to death row. As the verdict was read by presiding Judge Susan Orth, Gibson appeared completely unfazed by the sentencing.
“He is a pretty icy person. I have no feeling for him one way or the other,” Whitis said of Gibson. “He is a plague on society, and I’m glad he is going to go away.”
Gibson was represented by court-appointed attorneys J. Patrick Biggs and George Streib. The state was represented by Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Steven Owen.
“This is the outcome we thought was appropriate for the crime that was committed,” Henderson said after the day of trial. “It is the ultimate penalty.”
No mention of Gibson’s alleged involvement in the deaths of Hodella or Kirk were admissible during the Whitis trial, but the jury still decided on the state’s most severe sentence.
“This case on its face was egregious enough that it was worthy of the death penalty,” Henderson said. “This is the verdict we wanted. This is the verdict, I believe, the family wanted.”
Henderson said the trial resulted in no winners, but that justice had been served.
“We have to reserve the worst of the worst for the ultimate penalty, and the law in our state is that the death penalty is that ultimate punishment,” he said.
A death penalty verdict is automatically sent to the Indiana Supreme Court for appellate review, but Henderson said he is not concerned the recent decision will be reversed by a higher court.
“I don’t have any concerns, [but] I have been around long enough to have seen cases get sent back over a variety of issues. I don’t anticipate that, here,” Henderson said. “I have no reason to believe this conviction will not be upheld.”
The trial for Whitis’ murder began Oct. 21 and the jury came back with a guilty verdict in Whitis’ murder after just 17 minutes.
The sentencing phase of the trial began Monday. Today, the jury will here evidence on whether Gibson will be considered a habitual offender, which is an aggravating factor to a sentence in Indiana.