An Indiana prosecutor isn't ruling out the possibility that a convicted sex offender charged in the killings of three women may have other victims, saying Wednesday the man has shown "an outrageous disregard for human life."
William Clyde Gibson, who has a lengthy criminal record, was brought into Floyd Superior Court bound in shackles and charged in the murder of 35-year-old Stephanie Kirk, a Charlestown woman last seen March 25. He already was facing charges in the killing of a longtime family friend and the 2002 slaying of a Florida woman.
Wednesday's charges came nearly a month after Kirk's body was found buried behind Gibson's New Albany home and after weeks of scant details released by authorities. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson said he plans to seek the death penalty against the 54-year-old Gibson. Henderson said investigators don't know of any other victims, and he declined to say whether Gibson had accompanied authorities in searches along the Ohio River or in Bloomington, about 90 miles away.
"We would never rule out anything further, but at this point in time I have no information that there's anything else credible to date," the prosecutor said.
Residents in the well-kept neighborhood just north of Louisville, Ky., where Gibson had lived with his mother, who died in January, described him as often friendly and helpful. They said they were struggling to comprehend the horrific allegations and wondering whether there might have been other victims.
"The idea that something like that was going on, it's just hard to imagine. We kind of wonder where this thing might go," said Larry Robb, a retired draftsman who lives a few doors down from Gibson.
Gibson now faces two counts of being a habitual offender in addition to the three murder counts. He was charged last month in the killing of 75-year-old Christine Whitis and the unsolved 2002 slaying of Karen Hodella, a 44-year-old Florida woman who was visiting the area.
Whitis, a longtime Gibson family friend, was found strangled in Gibson's home hours before his April 19 arrest, when he was pulled over in her minivan and initially charged with drunken driving and resisting arrest. Hodella's body was found near the Ohio River in nearby Clarksville in January 2003.
Gibson has been jailed without bond since his arrest. His attorney, J. Patrick Biggs, did not immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday seeking comment.
Henderson said he's seeking the death penalty against Gibson in the killings of Whitis and Kirk, who a preliminary autopsy suggests had been strangled. He said the aggravating circumstances that support seeking capital punishment in those cases include the allegation that Gibson sexually assaulted both women before killing them and that he mutilated part of Whitis' body after her death.
Henderson said Gibson had shown "an outrageous disregard for human life."
"If these two cases are not candidates for the death penalty, then I don't think any case would be," he said.
Henderson said he's not pursuing the death penalty in Hodella's 2002 killing, citing the amount of time that has elapsed, among other reasons.
Gibson showed no emotion during the brief hearing at which Judge Susan Orth set an Aug. 27 trial date. Henderson said he would prefer Gibson to stand trial first for Whitis' killing.
Her son, Michael Whitis, stared intently at Gibson during Wednesday's hearing and said afterward that his mother had known Gibson since he was a child and he's dumbfounded by her killing.
"I still just can't understand how he could do this to anybody, but especially someone he's known all his life and has treated him like a family member," Whitis said, adding that he had no objections to prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
Kirk's father, Tony Kirk, told reporters he thinks Gibson is "just a sick person, pure evil" and that he could barely stand being in the same courtroom with the man. He also said that he supports prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty.
"It won't be closure even if he's executed because I still don't have my daughter back," Kirk said, adding: "He needs to be executed."
Court records show that Gibson has had a crime-filled adult life, including a 1992 sexual abuse conviction in Kentucky involving an attack on a woman. He was released from a Kentucky prison in 1999 after serving that sentence. Most recently he served a four-year sentence for auto theft in Indiana and was released from an Indiana prison in 2009, according to state records.
David Osborne, the jailer at the Daviess County Jail in Owensboro, Ky., where Gibson was held for five months in 2006 on a theft conviction, said Gibson would use his long fingernails to carve soap into elaborate crucifixes, statues of Jesus and various figurines including a naked woman.
"That's kind of spooky now, looking back at it, with this information we know now," he said.
Schreiner reported from New Albany, Ind.