During the final closing argument of his nearly 40-year career, prosecutor Roger King yesterday asked a jury to send a message to a skinhead defendant about racial hate crimes.
"It will be up to you to say 'No mas' - even in 2008," just as boxer Roberto Duran famously shouted "no more" in Spanish to end a fight, King said.
At 17, Thomas Gibison "went hunting without a license. [He] went hunting for a live person just because he was black," said King, referring to the April 16, 1989, fatal shooting of Aaron Wood, 33, in North Philadelphia.
"You can't kill a man just because he's black!" roared King, the legendary lion of the District Attorney's Office, as more than 80 spectators - including many lawyers, cops and friends - listened in rapt attention to his 40-minute closing in the packed court.
At one point, King veered from the case, choking up as he reminisced about his four decades as a prosecutor and naming more than 10 detectives with whom he worked.
Drawing on memories of growing up in Alabama, King said: "Even in the Deep South, we thought these truths to be self-evident that all men were created equal," entitled to constitutional rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
"Mr. Wood may not have been happy or successful, but he was alive," King said. Wood "was not less of a man because he may have used drugs or been a drug dealer."
"We are not prosecuting Mr. Gibison because he's a skinhead, or a white supremacist. We're prosecuting him because he killed a person."
Gibison "blew away [Wood's] life, his future, his past," King said.
Then, the prosecutor asked for a first-degree murder conviction. Its penalty: a life sentence.
Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina advised the jury not to base its verdict on King, or how long he served in the D.A.'s Office.
"Guns and drugs killed Aaron Wood, not Tom Gibison, countered defense attorney Michael Farrell, repeating what he said at the May 20 opening of the trial.
Farrell charged that an anonymous caller who claimed to be a hit man demanded that Wood to "either return the drugs or the money" he owed.
A defense witness who testified earlier in the trial, Sabrina Campbell Savage, with whom Wood lived in the mid-1980s, testified that she received the telephone threat and notified Wood.
The audience, listening to Farrell's theory of how Wood died, was sitting on edge until King cross-examined Campbell Savage, who testified she received the threatening call in 1986 - three years before Wood was killed.
In his closing, Farrell pointed out that shortly before Wood was killed, he was acting nervous at the Satin Doll bar where he met with two men, and later was "peeking" out the door before he left.
Minutes later, Farrell said, three black men ran from the direction where Wood was killed.
Farrell, who made closing statements first, accused "overzealous" federal and local law enforcement with targeting Gibison for his beliefs as a blue-collar skinhead.
King later accused the defense attorney of impugning the integrity of law-enforcement officers with decades of experience who had worked on the case.
The defense attorney contended that no physical evidence tied Gibsion to the murder and that three prosecution witnesses had fashioned their "stories" to go along with "rumors" presented by investigators.
Farrell said Craig Peterson, who served a 37-month sentence for lying to a federal grand jury in a related case, was forced to testify after getting immunity because he didn't want to give up his wife, a good job and home on a 12-acre plot in Vermont.
Peterson testified that he drove Gibison in his mother's car to find a black man in Philadelphia for Gibison to kill.
Farrell discounted the testimony of a "scorned woman" - an ex-girlfriend who wrote in letters that she wanted to marry Gibison until she learned of his infidelities.
She testified he had raped her for six hours with objects and was hospitalized 10 times for substance abuse and mental problems after living with him for six years.