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Juror: Skinhead cleared of murder to appease holdout

Earlier this week, jurors voted 11-to-1 to convict white supremacist Thomas Gibison of killing Aaron Wood, a black man, in 1989 to "earn" a spider-web tattoo - considered a trophy in his skinhead subculture, a juror told the Daily News.

Earlier this week, jurors voted 11-to-1 to convict white supremacist Thomas Gibison of killing Aaron Wood, a black man, in 1989 to "earn" a spider-web tattoo - considered a trophy in his skinhead subculture, a juror told the

Daily News.

The lone holdout, juror No. 12, believed that Gibison, 36, of Newark, Del., had killed someone but that he had not fatally shot Wood, 33, on April 16, 1989, in North Philadelphia.

In revealing the inside story of three days of intense deliberations in the high-profile, 12-day trial, the juror said 11 jurors "felt strongly" that Gibison had killed Wood.

But No. 12 quietly vowed: "We can be here for weeks, I'm not giving in," according to the juror who spoke at length on condition of anonymity.

"Everyone started worrying about a hung jury," the juror said. At least one juror argued correctly that if there was a mistrial, Gibison would be retried, but others weren't so sure.

According to the juror, the jury was worried that if Gibison was not convicted of something, he would get bail and be freed. So the jury compromised, agreeing to convict Gibison of conspiracy and weapons violations, which was why they asked the judge for sentencing guidelines.

"I should have stuck to my guns and made it a hung jury," the juror said.

Prior to trial, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina took back the jury selection list from both sides, and would not release the jury list this week.

Last Friday, Sarmina gave the jury instructions about how to apply the law during their deliberations. That day, four black jurors and eight white jurors took its first vote: 9-to-3 to convict Gibison of first degree murder.

Four black jurors and five white jurors were convinced Gibison killed Wood, but three other jurors were not. By day's end, one juror was "infuriated" with another, the juror said.

On Monday, the second day of deliberations, jurors discussed evidence presented by both Assistant District Attorney Roger King and Gibison's attorney, Michael Farrell.

Among the issues the jurors argued were:

No. 12 "felt King didn't give enough hard evidence," and appeared to agree with Farrell's version of events, the juror said.

"Farrell was a pain-in-the-a-- lawyer, who had questioned the [prosecution] witnesses hard, but nobody cracked under his questioning and all [their] stories lined up," the juror said.

No. 12 did not believe one ex-girlfriend, said the juror, because she was "too batty" and wanted to get back at [Gibison] out of anger, as Farrell had argued.

The woman, who had lived with Gibison for six years, testified she had been hospitalized 10 times for substance abuse and psychiatric problems, after Gibison allegedly raped her with objects for six hours.

The majority of jurors believed her testimony, despite that she was "scarred, confused, batty and mixed dates," the juror said.

She may have gone to the police for the wrong reason (to retaliate against Gibison for abusing her) but she told the truth, the juror said.

No. 12 also didn't believe the admitted accomplice, Craig Peterson, saying "I don't know what them agents told him [Peterson] to say," as Farrell had argued.

Others believed Peterson's testimony; he said on the stand that he drove Gibison to Philadelphia to hunt for a black man for Gibison to kill, the juror said.

"I knew Peterson had a crazy background," the juror added, but he "made me feel he was scared, tired of running and wanted this to be over with."

No. 12 pointed out Peterson could not identify the exact murder scene 17 years after Wood was killed. But jurors argued that the incident occurred at night, and Peterson was probably taken back to see the location in daylight, according to the juror.

Peterson testified he had seen a fire escape or red brick wall where Wood was killed, but No. 12 pointed out, neither were on Stillman Street near Master, where the murder occurred.

Jurors pointed out that fire escapes and a red brick wall were located within a block of the crime scene, the juror added.

"We knew [Peterson] had seen it, but couldn't remember where," said the juror. "But for No. 12, that wasn't sufficient enough."

Jurors questioned why Homicide Detective Leon Lubiejewski didn't bring a list of 37 unsolved murders to court to show that the details Peterson gave authorities matched only the Wood murder.

When Lubiejewski offered to do so, and both King and Farrell declined, some jurors wondered what the attorneys were hiding. Three jurors believed that Lubiejewski was not hiding anything.

No. 12 felt that it was "impossible for Gibison to have shot Wood from the car and at an angle, and have the bullet go straight through his brain," the juror said.

But another juror who studied medicine gave jurors an anatomy lesson of facial bones, describing how the trajectory of the bullet could penetrate the brain, the juror said.

No. 12 insisted he wanted "hard evidence," like the murder weapon, the juror said.

Gibison had a .38 snub-nosed Colt revolver with six left-handed grooves in its barrel, just like the murder weapon, according to testimony. But No. 12, asked, "How do I know it wasn't a .357 [Magnum] or four other guns" with such grooves, as Farrell suggested.

By the end of Day 2, the juror said the vote was 11-to-1 for murder conviction, prompting a disgusted juror to stop talking for the last 90 minutes of deliberations.

"We felt like we were talking to a brick wall," the juror said. The next morning, everyone made up and came up with the compromise. *