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Indiana Supreme Court upholds man's death penalty in 2012 killing of his mother's best friend


INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the death penalty Thursday for a man convicted of killing a family friend and mutilating her body in a slaying the justices called "beyond horrendous."

The court affirmed William Clyde Gibson III's sentence for his 2013 conviction in the killing of 75-year-old Christine Whitis after finding no errors by the trial court among six issues Gibson raised on appeal.

Their ruling noted that Whitis, who had been the best friend of Gibson's late mother, was sexually assaulted by Gibson as he slowly strangled the Clarksville woman and even after her death.

Once she was dead, Gibson cut off part of her body and placed that severed flesh in the console of her van, which he then drove to various bars to go drinking, the decision noted.

"We find the nature of Gibson's offense to be beyond horrendous: he brutally murdered an elderly woman, sexually assaulting her in the process, even after she was dead, then dismembering her body," the justices wrote in their ruling.

Whitis' strangled and mutilated body was found in Gibson's garage in New Albany in April 2012, days before the body of 35-year-old Stephanie Kirk of Charlestown was found buried in his backyard.

Gibson, 57, pleaded guilty in Kirk's murder last year and was also sentenced to death in her killing — a sentence that's also been appealed to the state's high court, said Steven Ripstra, one of Gibson's two court-appointed attorneys.

Ripstra said he was disappointed by the court's ruling in Whitis' killing. He said he thought one of the issues the appeal raised about the Floyd County jury that convicted Gibson "was very good."

"It doesn't look like they addressed that in great detail," he said Thursday.

Ripstra said he would file a motion asking the court to rehear Gibson's appeal, and if that is rejected the next step would be to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gibson also pleaded guilty last year to the fatal stabbing of Karen Hodella, a 44-year-old from Port Orange, Florida, who had been visiting Indiana. Her remains were found in 2002 in Clarksville along the Ohio River. Gibson received a 65-year sentence in her killing.

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