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June 4, 2014

Prosecutor sees long-awaited end to Gibson saga

Serial killer faces his second death penalty sentence

NEW ALBANY — Floyd County Keith Henderson said Wednesday that he can now see the end of the two years of prosecution of New Albany serial killer William Clyde Gibson III.

Gibson pleaded guilty Tuesday to the killing of Stephanie Kirk, Charlestown, during the second day of jury selection in Vanderburgh County. The trial was slated for July 16 in a Floyd County court, where Henderson was seeking the death penalty.

Kirk, who was 35 years old at the time of her death, went missing March 25, 2012, and was found buried in the backyard of Gibson’s home April 27, 2012, nearly a week after New Albany police found the remains of another of Gibson’s victims in his home’s garage.

Henderson said attorneys had spent nearly 12 hours questioning potential jurors Monday, and while preparing to continue the jury selection Tuesday morning, he was notified Gibson had decided to enter a guilty plea. Henderson said he was “very surprised” to learn of Gibson reversing his not guilty plea.

“There was no explanation in open court and no explanation by the attorneys,” he said.

Henderson said he assumes something Gibson observed during the first day of jury selection led to his not wanting to go forth with the trial.

“What we have seen out of this defendant, I think he still likes to control the process, to the extent that he can have and an effect on it, he did,” Henderson said. “I think it was a very positive turn of events for all parties involved.”

Henderson said that later in the day, the Vanderburgh County Circuit Court, with Floyd County Judge Susan Orth presiding, approved the guilty plea and set a sentencing hearing for July 28.

“Under Indiana statutory law, if an individual is charged with a death penalty — murder with a death-penalty enhancement — then the case will bypass a jury during the sentencing phase and go to the judge for determination of the proper sentence,” Henderson said.

He added that Orth will have the option to impose a death penalty, a life sentence without parole, or a term of years in prison.

Henderson said Kirk’s father, Tony Kirk, was “extremely pleased [Gibson] has admitted guilt and that the trial will be avoided, at least to the underlying count of murder.”

Tony Kirk will have the opportunity to address the court during the sentencing hearing, which Henderson expects to last several days.

Henderson said the thinks the sentencing hearing will provide details of the Kirk’s murder that have not yet been disclosed publicly.

“During the course of Stephanie Kirk’s missing, as well as what happened to her at the hands of this defendant ... I think the public will understand, by us presenting to the judge the heinous facts of what occurred that night,” he said.

Henderson also is guilty of killing Christine Whitis and Karen Hodella. He was sentenced to death for the 2012 murder of Whitis, a family friend. He was sentenced to 65 years for the 2003 killing of Hodella. He is one of 14 people on the state’s death row.

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