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Split verdict in skinhead’s trial

A Common Pleas Court jury in a nearly two-decade-old slaying that authorities say was racially motivated today returned a mixed verdict that in the end pleased no one.

A Common Pleas Court jury in a nearly two-decade-old slaying that authorities say was racially motivated today returned a mixed verdict that in the end pleased no one.

The jurors acquitted Thomas Gibison, 37, of Newark, Del., of murder in the April 16, 1989, death of Aaron Wood, 33, of North Philadelphia. However, they found him guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and firearms violations.

Gibison, a skinhead who the prosecution contended killed Wood to prove his allegiance to white-supremacist dogma, also was acquitted of ethnic intimidation.

"Beam me up, Scottie," Assistant District Attorney Roger King said to reporters outside the courtroom.

"It's a travesty," said Wood's younger brother, Tyrone, 45. "How can you find him guilty of conspiracy and not the actual murder? If you're guilty of conspiracy, it means you conspired to kill a black person."

A relative of Gibison's who refused to give his name expressed similar sentiments.

"I don't understand," said the man, who had sat with the defendant's girlfriend and mother. "How can you find him innocent of the one thing and not the other?"

The jurors - four blacks and eight whites who began their deliberation on Friday - were hustled out of the courtroom and were not given a chance to explain the verdict.

Wood, a small-time drug dealer who did odd jobs to get by, was shot once in the head in the 1300 block of North Stillman Street, just north of Girard College, 19 years ago.

In the spring of 2006, however, the long-dormant case was revived after Patricia Miller, a former girlfriend of the defendant's, contacted authorities.

Miller, who also lived in Newark, told authorities that she had been raped and threatened by Gibison, and that he had talked about killing a black man in North Philadelphia years ago. The killing, she said, was so that Gibison could sport a spiderweb tattoo on his left elbow to indicate he had killed an African American.

She had few specifics. But authorities pursued the lead.

She also implicated one of Gibison's skinhead friends, Craig Peterson, 38, telling authorities that he had helped Gibison in the killing.

Peterson testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity.

On the witness stand, Peterson related how the two set out to kill a black in Wilmington, but there were too many people around so they decided to head for North Philadelphia.

Defense attorney J. Michael Farrell, however, maintained that Wood was killed over a drug debt, and presented witnesses who spoke about the victim's dealings.

Farrell, over the nine days of testimony, also contended that his client had been framed by federal authorities - who, in the increasingly vigilant times following 9/11, viewed skinheads as a domestic terrorist group. The lawyer ridiculed the government's reliance on an informant who had received immunity, and characterized Miller's testimony as coming from a spurned lover.

After the verdict was read today, Gibison, sporting a white shirt, was impassive, showing no emotion as his lawyer patted his shoulder.

Gibison's mother and girlfriend looked down until the verdict was read and then looked up and straight ahead, also revealing nothing.

And the more than half-dozen investigators who had helped King, a longtime prosecutor, work his last case sat glum-faced.

Sentencing by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has been set for July 25. Gibison faces up to 27 years in prison on the two convictions, King said.