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October 29, 2013

Penalty phase begins in Gibson trial

Death row among jury’s options for punishment

NEW ALBANY — An Indianapolis-based mental-health professional testified Monday that William Clyde Gibson III suffers from bipolar disorder and two personality disorders, but that he is not insane or incompetent to have stood trial.

Psychologist Edmund Haskins was the last witness to testify in the first day of the penalty phase of the trial, which was adjourned shortly before 7:30 p.m.

The trial entered the penalty phase Monday morning after the jury convicted Gibson, 56, in less than 20 minutes Friday afternoon in the murder of Christine Whitis, 75.

The jury, sequestered from Dearborn County, is currently tasked with determining if Gibson will be put to death, placed into the Indiana Department of Correction for a life sentence without parole, or given a prison term for the April 2012 slaying.

If the jury rules that Gibson is to be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole, Superior Court Judge Susan Orth is required to make the sentencing official. If jurors decide he should be sentenced to a term in prison, Orth will have discretion to sentence him to an appropriate term.

The same cast of jurors that found Gibson guilty of the murder will decide his penalty.

Haskins was hired by the defense, led by attorney J. Patrick Biggs, to conduct a mental-health evaluation of Gibson in September and testify in court at a rate of $350 an hour.

During Haskins’ lengthy testimony, the psychologist said he found Gibson to have antisocial disorder, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder and that he abused alcohol.

“Each element reinforces the other elements,” Haskins said to Gibson becoming so undone he brutally murdered Whitis in his home.

After casting doubt on the methods Haskins used to reach his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Floyd County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Steven Owen referenced a statistic that 9 percent of people could be diagnosed with the disorder, but those people do not commit murder.

“I’m not saying it is the bipolar that made him [Gibson] do this,” Haskins responded to Owen’s line of questioning. “I’m saying it’s everything combined.”

Owen then attacked Haskins’ notion that Gibson’s bipolar disorder could have led to him going into a fit of rage, saying Gibson was mentally fit enough to calculate a number of crimes linked to the murder, such as moving her vehicle from his home and planning to remove the body from the home’s garage, where it was found.

“His [Gibson’s] ability to reason is in tact,” Haskins retorted.

Before Biggs began his argument Monday, Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson had rested the state’s case after calling only one witness in the penalty phase.

Henderson said during a break in the trail Monday that Gibson’s brutal murder of Whitis makes him an ideal candidate for the death sentence.

The state is alleging Gibson is guilty of four aggravating factors, only one of which is statutorily required for the jury to send Gibson to death row.

Two of the aggravating factors are two counts of criminal deviate sexual conduct as the murder took place. The third aggravating factor results from Gibson removing Whitis’ right breast with a kitchen knife. The severed breast was later found in Whitis’ blue minivan Gibson was driving at the time of his arrest. The fourth aggravating factor alleged by the state is that the murder occurred while Gibson was on probation.

The state spent part of Monday attempting to solidify the fourth aggravating factor by having a Floyd County probation officer testify.

“I am confident we have proven those four aggravators,” Henderson said. “The first three [aggravating factors], as I told the jury in the opening statements, we did that in the underlying case.”

Before Haskins’ testimony, Biggs called a former neighbor of Gibson’s and a Floyd County Jail Corrections Officer who responded to an incident in a shower in the facility where it appeared Gibson had attempted to commit suicide after his April 2012 arrest.

Closing remarks were expected to be begin this morning. The trial is taking place in Floyd County Superior Court No. 1.

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