A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury convicted a racist skinhead of conspiracy to commit murder and firearms violations in the 1989 slaying of an African-American man, but acquitted him on a more serious charge.
The jury handed down the verdict against Thomas Gibison, 37, of Newark, Delaware, on June 3, 2008, after three days of deliberations.
On April 16, 1989, a 33-year-old African-American man was found dead from a single gunshot to the head in North Philadelphia. The case remained cold until 2006, when Gibison's former girlfriend contacted authorities.
During Gibison's trial, two of his ex-girlfriends, as well as a childhood friend and alleged accomplice, testified that Gibison was the shooter and that he had committed the murder to earn a spider web tattoo.
Although the jury convicted Gibison of conspiracy to commit murder and weapons violations in having a firearm at the time of the incident, they acquitted him on the charges of first-degree murder and ethnic intimidation. According to media reports following the verdict, the jurors may have misunderstood the law regarding a hung jury. The jurors allegedly told reporters that because one juror did not want to convict on the murder charge, the other 11 erroneously believed that a hung jury would result in Gibison's release, so they compromised.
During the trial, the two ex-girlfriends portrayed Gibison as a violent individual who had graphically recounted the killing to both of them. One woman, a high school girlfriend, testified that Gibison showed her his new spider web tattoo at her senior prom in May 1989 and told her he had killed a black man to get it.
The other woman, the ex-girlfriend who first alerted authorities, testified that Gibison described the killing to her, including the sound the victim's head made after hitting the ground. She also testified about his alleged proclivity for violence, claiming that he had raped and tortured her during the six years they lived together, as well as shot and beat her pit bull to death with a baseball bat.
This woman also gave authorities the name of Gibison's skinhead friend and alleged accomplice to the incident, Craig Peterson. Peterson, 38, testified for the prosecution that, on the night of the incident, the two men decided to go out and kill a black person. He stated that there were too many people around their home in Delaware, so Peterson drove the two in his mother's car to North Philadelphia. Peterson explained that the two men were skinheads and wanted to "earn" spider web tattoos by killing a black person. Peterson said that he watched as Gibison, then 17, fatally shot the victim in the head with a .38-caliber revolver, after which Peterson drove off. Ballistics tests revealed that the bullet used was from a .38-caliber.
During the trial, the judge did not allow photos of Gibison's Hitler and swastika tattoos or his white supremacist books and materials to be entered into evidence. She did allow prosecutors to show jurors a photo of Gibison and Peterson together, baring the spider web tattoos on their elbows.
Gibison could receive between 13 and 27 years in prison at his sentencing in July 2008: 10 to 20 years for first-degree conspiracy to commit murder and three to seven years for the third-degree felony weapons violations. There is a possibility that federal civil rights charges may also be filed against him.
Gibison's criminal record, which was not admitted at trial because the incidents occurred after the murder, includes a conviction for shooting up a car with people inside at a Delaware mall in 1989 and a subsequent conviction for being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.