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A third witness IDs defendant as killer in '89 case

A third witness - the getaway driver - yesterday identified skinhead Thomas Gibison as the triggerman who killed a black man in 1989 to "earn" a spiderweb tattoo for a hate crime.

A third witness - the getaway driver - yesterday identified skinhead Thomas Gibison as the triggerman who killed a black man in 1989 to "earn" a spiderweb tattoo for a hate crime.

In the fourth day of Gibison's murder trial, admitted skinhead Craig Peterson, now 38, testified that he drove Gibison, now 37, in Peterson's mother's car to North Philadelphia.

At 12:40 a.m., April 16, 1989, Aaron Wood, 35, was walking between two cars on Stillman Street near Seybert, as the Newark, Del., teens drove toward him.

"We pretty much said to each other: 'There's one right there,'" testified Peterson.

Gibison, then 17, "turned and shot him right between the eyes. I heard him hit the pavement, like a thud," he added. "I slowly drove off like nothing happened."

Peterson testified that Gibison, a friend since fourth grade who was like a brother, had used a snub-nosed Colt .38-caliber revolver in the slaying. Ballistics tests showed the fatal bullet was .38-caliber.

"Tom said he was going to get rid of it. I took his word for it," said Peterson, who received immunity for his testimony.

Peterson was the third of five witnesses to identify Gibison as the gunman who killed Wood. Two ex-girlfriends testified earlier that Gibison boasted that he had killed a black man and showed them a news article about it.

Gibison is charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, ethnic intimidation and weapon offenses.

The 1989 murder remained unsolved until an ex-girlfriend provided details to authorities in 2006. A Philadelphia homicide detective sifted through 37 unsolved murders from early 1989 before finding that the Wood murder matched details she provided.

Gibison's attorney, Michael Farrell, vigorously tried to prevent any inflammatory evidence from being introduced in the trial, asking, at one point, for five sidebar conferences within 50 minutes.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled that photos of Gibison's swastika, Hitler and skinhead tattoos, his collection of white supremacy books and racist memorabilia were too prejudicial to show to the jury.

Yesterday, however, she allowed a photo of Gibison and Peterson showing off spiderweb tattoos on their left elbows to be shown to the jury.

The four black and eight white jurors were also shown two photos of a fist tattoo on the top of Gibison's head - the cover of a skinhead music album.

In complex, compound questions, Farrell repeatedly tried to get Peterson to adopt his version of the facts - that authorities fed the witness facts that he testified about. Peterson denied it.

Peterson admitted that he initially lied to federal agents about knowing about the murder. In a second visit by federal agents, he claimed, "Tom didn't kill anybody. He may have bragged about it."

In a third visit with agents, Peterson was given a grand jury subpoena to testify about the murder. Two days later, Peterson called back and confessed to his role as the driver - before he was granted immunity.

"I didn't want to go back to jail," he said.

Peterson earlier served a three-year federal sentence for lying to grand jury in a related case - "mostly for Tom, and myself," he said.

Farrell accused Peterson of testifying against Gibison so he could keep his 4.3-acre Vermont home, good job and solid relationship.

But Assistant District Attorney Roger King, in the last trial of his 35-year career, asked Peterson only three quick questions.

"Is this a story?" asked King.

"No," replied Peterson.

"Did it happen?"


"Did [Gibison] shoot that man?"

"Yes." *