The killing of Aaron Wood 19 years ago in North Philadelphia was a racial killing, done by a skinhead on the hunt for African Americans to assassinate, a prosecutor argued yesterday in Common Pleas Court.

No, said a defense attorney, it was just another case of guns and drugs, twisted into a lie by a woman scorned.

So went the debate before Judge M. Teresa Sarmina as the defense and prosecution locked horns over the motive for the killing.

Thomas Gibison of Newark, Del., is accused of shooting Wood in the head as he walked out from between two parked cars in the 1300 block of North Stillman Street on April 16, 1989.

Assistant District Attorney Roger King contended that Gibison, then 17, and Craig Petersen, then 19, had committed the murder to earn their stripes as skinheads. According to the prosecution, the stripes consisted of the lacy spiderwebs that both men subsequently got tattooed across their elbows.

But defense attorney J. Michael Farrell argued yesterday that that was just so much fiction concocted by a former Gibison girlfriend.

Wood, he contended, was killed because he owed money to one of his drug suppliers, and had cocaine in his sock at the time.

"It was Aaron Wood's choice not to pay his supplier," Farrell said as Gibison looked on. "Aaron Wood was a drug dealer who unfortunately received coke and owed thousands."

Farrell said that although his client had tattoos associated with white supremacists, he did not subscribe to that ideology.

According to King, Gibison and Petersen scouted Wilmington for prey and then drove to Philadelphia near Girard College, where, King said, Gibison spotted Wood and told Petersen: "There's one!"

Gibison allegedly got out of the car, walked over to Wood, and shot him with a .38-caliber revolver.

Not until 2007 did FBI agents working on a firearms case in Delaware pick up tips of a related, unsolved Philadelphia murder. From there, Philadelphia homicide detectives backtracked through 37 unsolved murders to finger Gibison in Wood's killing.

Petersen, allegedly the driver, was granted immunity by the federal government when he agreed to testify about the Wood murder.

Gibison was arrested Nov. 7, 2006, at his home. The trial continues today.

Contact staff writer Dwight Ott

at 215-854-2797 or dott@phillynews.com.