The jury that tried him in August could not decide whether Seabon “Tom” Gibson deserved to be convicted of murder or manslaughter, so the 77-year-old retired truck driver from Treme chose for himself on Tuesday.
He accepted a 21-year prison term on the lesser charge in connection with the stabbing death last year of his longtime girlfriend.
Gibson’s plea agreement came on the morning he was scheduled to stand trial again for murder.
He is already serving a 27-year sentence after the same jury in August convicted him of obstruction for tossing 58-year-old Fannie Campbell’s body off his roof and into the bed of his pickup. He later took the body to a vacant lot and returned home to sop up the blood.
The jury deadlocked over Campbell’s killing, with eight votes for murder and four for manslaughter.
Gibson’s new sentence potentially adds about six years to his time in prison. A conviction for manslaughter, because it’s a violent crime, requires that a much heftier portion of the sentence be served before possible parole.
“This way, at least he doesn’t have to risk never getting out,” Gibson’s attorney, Timothy Yazbeck, said of the manslaughter plea, versus risking a murder conviction at a new trial.
Gibson argued self-defense in riveting testimony at his August trial, claiming that Campbell had launched into another in a series of gin- and crack-fueled attacks on him over money.
In April 2014, police arrested Campbell for allegedly gashing Gibson on his white-haired skull with either a hammer or a wrench after first smashing a window with a baseball bat. A restraining order was issued for Campbell, but the couple resumed their combustible relationship.
Campbell turned up dead on July 20, 2014, in a grassy lot on North Robertson Street. Her body was wrapped in a sheet and covered with stab wounds. Police made a beeline to Gibson’s home in the 1300 block of St. Philip Street, where they found copious amounts of blood in multiple rooms.
Gibson denied having seen Campbell that day. But three hours into questioning by detectives, he admitted he had stabbed Campbell after wresting a knife from her.
On the witness stand, Gibson demonstrated a loose, backhand flick as he described the motion he used in fending off Campbell with the knife, though he said he didn’t remember stabbing her eight times.
“She attacked me. We was in a big battle there, and she come up with that knife and start talking crazy, sure enough, and I knew that meant no good,” he testified.
Campbell often kept a weapon tucked across her bosom, Gibson said.
“I got half a finger cut off trying to get that knife. She tried to do the best she could, but I guess I was a little bit stronger than what she thought I was,” he testified. “I had to do something to try to protect myself, or she gonna hurt me as bad as I hurt her.”
Gibson said he too was drunk at the time. He said he cleaned up the blood to keep it from hardening on his floor.
As for dumping Campbell’s body, he testified, “I was out of my mind. I didn’t know what I was doing and what is what.”
Yazbeck said he hoped the state will consider releasing Gibson early.
“Given his age and declining health, there may be an opportunity for the parole board to do a compassionate release,” Yazbeck said. “At least he has that opportunity.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.