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October 24, 2013

Medical examiner, victim’s son take stand in Gibson trial

State rests after more graphic photos for jurors

NEW ALBANY — The medical examiner who performed Christine Whitis’ autopsy testified Thursday that the 75-year-old had suffered injuries consistent with a sexual assault.

Amy Burrows-Beckham, a forensic pathologist with the Jefferson County [Ky.] Medical Examiner’s office, was the first witness called to testify on the fourth day of the trial that could send William Clyde Gibson, 56, to death row in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Gibson is charged in murdering Whitis, whose body was discovered by his sisters in the garage of his New Albany home on April 19, 2012.

Burrows-Beckham also told the court that multiple blunt force injuries were found on Whitis’ face at the time of the autopsy, as well as abrasions to her left breast.

Earlier in the trial, jurors were shown photographs of Whitis’ severed right breast, which was found in the console of her minivan that Gibson was driving at the time of his arrest.

From the witness stand, Burrows-Beckham served as a narrator as Henderson displayed multiple close-up photographs of Whitis’ pubic area. The state has alluded throughout the trial that the punctures, abrasions and contusions to Whitis’ genitals resulted from Gibson, which he denies.

Before the state closed its case at about 3:45 p.m., Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson called Whitis’ only child, Mike Whitis, to testify.

Mike Whitis said his mother had been best friends with Gibson’s mother and that he had been childhood friends with Gibson, but the two grew apart later in life.

He said Christine Whitis took on a motherly role toward Gibson, and that she saw him as “one of those people who needed a little extra help.”

Whitis was willing to give Gibson that extra help, even to her dying day. She had gone to his home on April 18, 2012, to offer comfort, as Gibson had told her he was still grieving from his mother’s death months earlier and wanted someone with whom to talk.

Many of the nearly 20 family and friends that have filled half the courtroom’s gallery area throughout he trial began crying as Mike Whitis looked through his mother’s purse, at Henderson’s direction. The purse had been found in a closet of Gibson’s home. Mike Whitis helped the state confirm that the handbag was in fact his mother’s, and that she would never go without some cash in her possession. The only money found in the purse by investigators was a single dime and a nickel.

The state also called to testify Thursday the woman who cleaned Whitis’ home — she was supposed to clean the day of the murder, but couldn’t make contact with her that day — the man who had installed a security system in her home and two Hooters waitresses, who placed Gibson at the restaurant the day after the murder. The four witnesses were all used by the state to help establish a timeline for the day of the murder and the following day when Gibson was arrested during a traffic stop after he had been identified as a suspect in the crime.

Gibson’s defense, led by court-appointed attorney J. Patrick Biggs, was scheduled to begin its argument Friday morning.

It is expected that the defense will complete its case before lunch, and that the jury, sequestered from Dearborn County, will begin deliberating before the end of the day.

Floyd County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Steven Owen, who is also prosecuting the case, said Thursday that closing arguments will take place today, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

“I think the case is fairly overwhelming that [Gibson] murdered Mrs. Whitis,” Owen said of the state’s closing remarks. “I think what we will have to do is illuminate how it was done. That is our goal tomorrow.”

The trial is being held in Floyd County Superior Court No. 1 with Judge Susan Orth presiding.

Gibson was also accused last year of killing 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.

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