INDIANAPOLIS (NEWS AND TRIBUNE) - The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday on behalf of a New Albany man convicted of the murders of three women in Southern Indiana between 2002 and 2012 and who is on death row in two of the cases.
Appellate counsel for William Clyde Gibson III argued that his trial attorneys failed to properly investigate a prior brain injury and present it to the jury during sentencing, and that the attorney who was lead counsel in two of his cases and co-counsel in the third had a conflict of interest.
Gibson was convicted by a jury of the April 2012 murder and mutilation of his late mother's best friend, 75-year-old Christine Whitis, and pleaded guilty to the March 2012 murder of 35-year-old Stephanie Kirk and the 2002 murder of Karen Hodella. In the first two cases, he received a death sentence and in the third, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
Gibson previously appealed the two death sentences, which were upheld. He later sought for his cases to be re-examined in a Floyd County court through post-conviction relief; those requests were denied.
Lindsay Van Gorkum represented Gibson during Thursday's hearing, requesting that the court transfer the jurisdiction of the Hodella case and reverse post-conviction findings in all three cases.
She argued that Gibson's trial attorneys had been negligent in fully investigating the effects a 1991 accident may have had on Gibson's mental state and his subsequent actions.
She said Gibson had spoken during the investigation about the wreck and possible mental issues caused by it. An MRI was performed on Gibson in 2013, about three quarters of the way through the trial for the murder of Whitis. Van Gorkum said Gibson's attorneys failed when they didn't pursue this path and failed to give the information about the MRI to the medical expert who testified post-conviction.
She said evidence of his potential brain injury was "important; it's critical for a jury to hear."
Gibson's attorneys had argued during trial that his mental distress over the death of his mother in the months before had impacted his actions, leading to the deaths of Kirk and Whitis.
Van Gorkum also made the case that lead attorney John Biggs, who at the time was the chief public defender in Floyd County, had a conflict of interest. Van Gorkum said Biggs' heavy case load and pressure to minimize expenses kept him from giving Gibson the time or resources needed to properly defend his cases.
She said the time constraint kept attorneys from attending regular interviews between police and Gibson, discussions in which he later made confessions. Van Gorkum asserted this would have taken Biggs' time, "while he also had obligations as a full-time office administrator who was maintaining a full-time case load at that time."
Tyler Banks, representing the state in the case, said in his argument that Gibson's convictions and sentences should be upheld.
"In three separate cases, Gibson was properly convicted for trapping, murdering and, in one case, mutilating three helpless women," he said. "... Gibson has set the standard for the worst of the worst and any reasonable judge or jury would have found that the death penalty was the only appropriate punishment."
He addressed the post-conviction argument that "a single, mild, traumatic brain injury set off a course of events that culminated in the brutal mutilations and murder of three women," he said. "This constructed narrative has multiple issues and does not prove counsel was ineffective ..."
Banks also questioned how a jury could even be shown evidence of how Gibson's behavior had changed after 1991 without causing prejudice by including the other pending murder cases and other previous convictions.
"This post-conviction narrative relies on three things: a single traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder and a history of alcoholism," he said. "Of those three things, the sentencing fact-finders were informed and provided evidence of two of them.
"This narrative doesn't explain why many, many people with this diagnosis or with these conditions do not commit horrific murders like Mr. Gibson did."
He added that the conflict of interest statement made by Van Gorkum didn't hold up.
"The counsel's job is to manage limited money," he said. "This is the dilemma of all counsel; that can't be a conflict of interest.
The court took the arguments under advisement.