Gibson takes stand in own defense — (The Herald-Citizen)

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The  Herald-Citizen

Published March 28, 2007 12:32 PM CDT

Lindsay McReynolds, Herald-Citizen Staff

NASHVILLE — The second day of a hearing for the reinstatement of District Attorney Bill Gibson’s law license continued with hours of testimony from psychologists regarding Gibson’s mental state and several other officials who testified against Gibson.

A three-member panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility listened to testimony from witnesses called by Gibson’s attorneys and the BPR to determine whether Gibson poses a threat of substantial harm to the public should his law license be reinstated.

The BPR oversees lawyer licensing in Tennessee.

But at the conclusion of Tuesday’s 12-hour hearing, there was no indication as to whether Gibson would be reinstated and be allowed to return to work as the district attorney for the 13th Judicial District.

Tuesday’s hearing opened with testimony from Gibson himself, as he told of his history of being elected district attorney and the various crime prevention programs he’s had a hand in.

He also told the panel of the events that led up to his communication with Chris Adams, a convicted murderer whom Gibson had prosecuted for the September 2003 murder and robbery of Lillian Kelley, an elderly Putnam County woman.

The discovery of letters between the two was what led to the suspension of Gibson’s law license.

Gibson testified that before the Kelley murder, he had some minor communications with Adams, beginning when Adams was an inmate of the Putnam County Jail who was allowed to help with preparations for Cookeville’s Soap Box Derby in 2000.

Adams later called Gibson from jail to ask if he could be furloughed in order to participate in a rehabilitation program, and Gibson agreed to do that for him. Following that call, Adams called Gibson again to let him know that he wasn’t successful in the program and had come back to jail.

According to testimony, the next time Gibson heard from Adams was when Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Bob Krofssik was questioning Adams about the Kelley murder.

Apparently, Adams had asked for an attorney late one night as he was being questioned, and when Krofssik called Gibson, Adams specifically asked to speak with him.

“I said, ‘Chris, you messed up,'” Gibson testified Tuesday about the phone call. “He started sobbing. I told him to talk to an attorney and pray about it.”

After that phone call, Adams allegedly confessed his crime to Agent Krofssik.

“The whole situation was very unusual,” Gibson testified. “I don’t recall any situation like that. I’ve never had an accused person put on the phone to talk to me.”

Gibson said he later went to Public Defender David Brady to tell him there might be a problem with the confession since Gibson had been involved in the process.

Gibson said that in October 2003, he and Brady visited Adams at the Putnam County Jail, where Gibson gave him a book for offenders. He said it was after that meeting that Adams began writing letters to him.

Gibson testified that the first letter Adams wrote him was in April 2004, in which Adams thanked Gibson for the book Gibson gave him.

Gibson said he continued to receive letters from Adams and also sent him letters as well.

He said he did not show the letters to Brady.

“Clearly, it was what I should have done,” he said. “Adams felt like the police had lied to him to get a confession. He said Brady didn’t appear to want to help him.”

In the meantime, Gibson testified that a settlement date of July 20, 2004, was set in the case, and at some point, Gibson and Brady visited Adams again in the Pikeville prison to talk about a plea.

Gibson said that first-degree murder was suggested, and that Adams asked Gibson what he thought.

Gibson testified that he told Adams he believed he had options other than the first-degree murder.

According to Gibson’s testimony, the July 20 deadline came and went, and a plea was not entered in the case.

Gibson said he told Assistant District Attorney David Patterson, who was handling the case but is now a criminal court judge, to hold off on the case so he could work on the case some more.

Gibson said he thought maybe there should have been a mental health evaluation of Adams.

He said Adams was strung out on cocaine at the time of the murder which could take away his ability to “premeditate or deliberate.”

Gibson said that in his first letter to Adams back in September 2004 that he admitted in the first paragraph that he shouldn’t have been writing to Adams.

Gibson said he gained acceptance on proposed sentence for Adams from Kelley’s family, and Adams entered a plea for 35 years, 20 for the murder and 15 for the robbery of Lillian Kelley, on October 4, 2004. Following the plea, Adams and Gibson continued to write letters to each other, with Gibson even signing his children’s names to a letter written at Christmas.

In the letters, Adams asked for Gibson’s help in the case of a friend who had been charged with cocaine possession, and Gibson wrote to Adams about his own personal issues, including a friendship with a woman named Tina Sweat.

In a July 2005 letter, Gibson said he wrote to Adams suggesting a petition for post-conviction relief, since Adams had complained about the way his case was handled.

“I thought he ought to know about his options,” Gibson said.

Although Gibson later said he knew Adams wouldn’t be coming out of jail “short of divine intervention” and that he only told Adams those things because that’s what he wanted to hear.

After attorney Phil Parsons was appointed to the case, Adams showed the letters to him, and Parsons and Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility, which led to the suspension of Gibson’s license.

Psychological evaluations

Gibson testified that after his law license was suspended, he went back and reread the letters between himself and Adams and was disturbed by what he saw.

He contacted the Tennessee Lawyer Assistance Program, which aids troubled attorneys, and he was set up with a Vanderbilt Unviersity psychologist Dr. James Walker, who also testified at Tuesday’s hearing.

Dr. Walker said TLAP’s goal is to see if the client has antisocial motivations that make a person a risk for bad behavior.

“There was nothing to suggest that he had antisocial behavior,” Dr. Walker told the panel. “He presented himself as a pro-social person, concerned about the welfare of other people … even to a fault.”

Dr. Walker said that he did discover that over the past two years prior to his law license suspension, that Gibson had low energy, difficulty sleeping and an impending mood disorder, for which he was prescribed sleeping pills and antidepressants.

Dr. Walker said that he diagnosed Gibson with adjustment disorder with depressed and anxious mood as well as with alcohol abuse.

He said that adjustment disorder is treatable and is experienced by many individuals in their 40s and 50s.

“His own personal peculiarity, religious views and helpfulness resulted in the behavior,” Dr. Walker said of the letter writing between Gibson and Adams.

Dr. Walker prescribed Gibson a several-day-long intensive rehabilitation program called PCS in Arizona, which Gibson completed, and continued counseling, for which Gibson has been seeing Cookeville psychologist Dr. John Averitt. Dr. Averitt also testified Tuesday concerning his sessions with Gibson.

Dr. Walker testified that he believes the intensive TLAP program is vital in Gibson’s case and that he doesn’t believe Gibson will ever commit the same sort of behavior as he did in the Adams case again.

Gibson has signed a contract with TLAP, which involves the close monitoring of his actions.

Dr. Averitt and Dr. Walker, along with a Nashville psychiatrist, Dr. John Joseph Griffin, who was selected to testify by the BPR, all said that they don’t believe Gibson poses a threat of harm to the public.

While Dr. Griffin stated that he couldn’t be sure of whether or not Gibson would participate in something like the letter writing with Adams again.

“It’s very possible that he could never do it again,” Dr. Griffin said. “On the other hand, if he did it once and doesn’t understand it well, what keeps it from happening again? I don’t know.”

Dr. Griffin said he recommended intense therapy for Gibson, like once a week, which Dr. Averitt said he plans to do soon.

Tina Sweat

Another matter that was brought up in testimony Tuesday was the issue of Gibson’s involvement and assistance to a woman named Tina Sweat.

Sweat was convicted of assault and possession of a controlled substance in 2003, and later had her conviction set aside with the aid of Gibson, who claimed that Sweat had pleaded guilty to a charge greater than what she had been guilty of.

Gibson said that Sweat was a success story of rehabilitation from drugs, and he recommended her for a position on a steering committee for a drug court being organized by Criminal Court Judge Lillie Ann Sells. Sells also testified to that effect Tuesday.

Gibson discussed post-conviction relief for Sweat with Judge Sells so that Sweat could go on to law school, but Judge Sells said she could not hear a petition for that because of her involvement with Sweat. So Gibson sought Judge John Turnbull to hear the matter, which was eventually granted by Judge Turnbull.

Several witnesses noted a friendship between Gibson and Sweat, and Gibson admitted to taking his family along with Sweat’s family on a spring break vacation to Gulf Shores, Ala.

Testimony by Judge Turnbull criticized that friendship in relation to Gibson’s asking for post-conviction relief.

“If you’re a DA with a friend who has a problem, you’re supposed to recuse yourself,” Judge Turnbull said. “If I made a ruling based on friendship, I should be put out of office.”

Judge Turnbull testified that his learning of the friendship between Gibson and Sweat through the Adams letters prompted him to file a complaint with the BPR.

Testimony against Gibson

Several individuals testified Tuesday that they thought Gibson’s actions had harmed the office of the district attorney including Barbara Calfee, the daughter of Lillian Kelley who was murdered by Adams; Putnam Sheriff David Andrews, Public Defender David Brady, Judge Leon Burns, Judge John Turnbull and 15th District Attorney Tommy Thompson.

“I do not feel in my mother’s case that she was represented properly,” Calfee said. “I have lost total respect for the district attorney’s office.”

Public Defender Brady said he believe Gibson does pose a threat if he’s reinstated because of what was written in the letters.

“He was willing to undermine his own office,” Brady said. “The office Gibson holds requires the utmost credibility and ability to rely without exception on his judgment.”

Sheriff David Andrews said it’s not his decision if Gibson should be reinstated, but said, “No matter who’s in office, whether it’s Gibson or someone else, when something like this occurs, there’s an integrity problem and a credibility problem.”

Judge Turnbull said he felt like the relationship between himself and Gibson had been betrayed in the Tina Sweat matter.

Judge Leon Burns said he also believes Gibson’s reinstatement would pose a threat, saying, “From what I gather from the legal community and others, there’s been a great deal of respect for the system lost. Personally, I don’t know about my ability to trust the DA’s office.”

Hearing conclusion

The BPR finished witness testimony just before 9 last night, and panel members decided at that late hour to conclude the hearing, with written statements to be presented within the next few days.

“This is an important matter involving immense public concern,” Panel Chair Roger Manus said. “I want to give it proper attention.”

Following written statements presented by the BPR and Gibson’s attorneys Shawn Fry and Bill Ramsey, the board is expected to make a recommendation on the reinstatement of Gibson’s law license to the Tennessee Supreme Court, who will have the final authority in the matter.