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Murder case goes to judge

Patrick K. Gibson, 60 (sex offender registry)
Patrick K. Gibson, 60 (sex offender registry)

Final pitches made in ’92 store killing

Patrick Kevin Gibson made big money robbing banks. A dozen gunpoint heists in the 1990s netted him $850,000.

He was a professional robber who didn’t need to bother with a small-time holdup at a furniture store, claims the attorney representing him in a murder trial.

Gibson, 60, was arrested in Western Washington last year in connection with the 1992 killing of Spokane Valley furniture store owner Brian Cole. The arrest came under unusual circumstances: Gibson had stopped to complain to a police officer about a speeding motorcycle.

“None of these are the actions of a man who has a homicide in the past that he’s still running from,” said public defender Victoria Blumhorst in her closing argument Monday in Spokane County Superior Court. “Patrick Gibson is not a good guy. He’s done a lot of bad things in the past, and he told you that he is remorseful and ashamed.”

Gibson is a level 3 sex offender and protected federal witness.

“He always fesses up. He pleads guilty if he’s guilty,” Blumhorst said.

She said Gibson started a consulting business with aims to reform prisons.

Blumhorst urged Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen to acquit Gibson of first-degree murder for the 1992 fatal shooting, saying prosecutors built their case on assumptions.

But prosecutors said the evidence linking Gibson to the crime is plentiful.

His past is violent: In the late 1970s, he robbed a taco shop and a gas station at gunpoint. He kidnapped employees and raped them.

Last week he testified that he was disillusioned with society and began plotting robberies upon his release from prison in 1992, Deputy Prosecutor Tony Hazel said.

“In a sense, he felt powerless, and one way to remedy powerlessness is to impose your power on other people,” Hazel said. “It was about the thrill, not just about the money.”

Hazel said the methodology in the furniture store robbery along with a robbery that occurred at a children’s clothing store in Coeur d’Alene three hours earlier matched Gibson’s style: brazen, gunpoint robberies carried out in disguise as he barked orders at employees.

“He was prepared to shoot anyone who got in his way,” Hazel said.

Gibson made the choice to have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury. He was arrested after investigators found his DNA on a piece of a fake beard worn by the killer. Gibson contends a partner in his bank robberies must have reused the beard.

“DNA is not a date and time stamp,” Blumhorst said. “It simply means at some point in time, Patrick Gibson’s DNA got on this item, and the state’s theory has you assume that it got there on Nov. 7, 1992.”

The trial began in May, but was delayed when prosecutors learned that “America’s Most Wanted” had used the hat worn by the killer when re-enacting the murder in a 1993 episode. Police obtained DNA samples from host John Walsh, actor Trevor St. John and now-retired sheriff’s Detective Mark Henderson and compared it to the DNA profile on the hat. St. John’s and Henderson’s were present, but no traces of Walsh’s DNA were present, despite video from the episode that clearly shows him handling the hat.

Blumhorst pointed to those inconsistencies in an attempt to show the unreliability of DNA evidence.

Henderson cut off a piece of the beard for Coeur d’Alene police to use in their investigation of the children’s store robbery. That piece never was tested for DNA. Coeur d’Alene police destroyed it after the 10-year statute of limitations for robbery closed their investigation.

That piece could have held the real killer’s DNA, Blumhorst said.

Blumhorst pointed to testimony from Gibson’s brother, Michael Gibson, and a friend, Ken Hauser, who said they were fishing with Gibson on the day Cole was murdered. Prosecutors reminded Eitzen of recorded phone calls from jail in which Gibson discusses the alibi with his family and with Hauser, who visited him weekly in jail. Blumhorst said the three men remember the fishing trip well and have photographs of them displaying their catches.

“This was an exciting day for them,” she said.

Blumhorst also focused on differences in Gibson’s physical appearance and eyewitness accounts of Cole’s killer and of the Coeur d’Alene robber.

When Gibson was identified as a suspect, Michelle Cole, who witnessed her husband’s shooting, noticed a scar that she said reminded her of the killer. But Blumhorst reminded Eitzen that when police identified a tentative suspect years ago, Cole also said she believed he may have been the killer.

Gibson’s scar is from being shot by a sheriff’s deputy in the 1970s. In August 1978, he fired shots at a highway patrolman who tried to stop him for a traffic violation as he drove with his wife and her two children.

In November of that year, he and another inmate escaped from jail, stole a car and traveled to Nevada, where he and an accomplice robbed and raped two convenience store clerks. Gibson was arrested three days later near Vancouver, B.C.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May 1979 but paroled in 1992. He returned to prison for bank robbery in 1994 and became a member of the federal witness protection program after becoming an informant and implicating his cellmate in the murder of a mother and two girls in Iowa in the early 1990s. That killer, Dustin Honken, is on death row.

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