×

Johnstown man’s claims dismissed

Gibson contends trial in woman’s death was unfair

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has dismissed an appeal in which a Johnstown man claimed he received an unfair trial because his jury did not include African Americans and also because the jurors had been exposed to pretrial publicity concerning his case.

The defendant, Demetrius Darnel Gibson, 26, was convicted of third-degree murder, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person for the stabbing death of his estranged girlfriend, Elizabeth Miller, during the early morning of Aug. 6, 2013.

Cambria County Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III on Jan. 15, 2015, sentenced him to a prison term of 16 to 40 years.

He is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, according to state court records.

The Superior Court found that Gibson’s appeal issues were waived because he did not raise them earlier, but despite that finding, the three-judge panel that included Mary Jane Bowes, Anne E. Lazarus and Dan Pellegrini, reviewed the defendant’s arguments in an effort to explain why they were “meritless.”

Gibson contended that the pool from which his jurors were selected contained no African Americans or, as he contended, “he did not have a jury of his own race and therefore was subject to racial bias.”

The defendant charged that the composition of the jury pool violated the landmark 1986 Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky that ruled the purposeful exclusion of jury members based on race violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

At a pretrial hearing, testimony showed that Cambria County’s African American population is only 3.6 percent.

Jury pool selection is a random process acquiring names from voter registration rolls, driver’s license lists and income tax return records.

Gibson presented no evidence of purposeful discrimination in selection of the jury pool and the Superior Court panel upheld the Krumenacker ruling that Gibson’s challenge was “devoid of merit.”

When it came to the issue of pretrial publicity, some of the potential jurors were aware of “the stabbing at a car wash,” but expressed no detailed knowledge of the case.

The Superior Court stated that pretrial publicity “does not create a presumption of prejudice and that jurors are not required to be totally ignorant of the facts of a case.”

The Cambria judge’s ruling that this issue was meritless was also upheld.

The appeals court permitted Gibson’s attorney, Gary F. Vito, to withdraw from the case. Vito filed documents asking to withdraw because his client did not raise issues of merit.

According to the facts of the case as explained by the Superior Court, Gibson, his girlfriend and the victim’s brother were in an apartment when a series of arguments between Gibson and Elizabeth Miller turned violent.

Miller and her brother fled the apartment, but Miller forgot her phone and was able to contact Gibson and arrange a meeting at a Johnstown car wash for the return of the phone.

Once at the car wash, Miller got into Gibson’s car and another argument broke out. He then stabbed Miller in the back as her brother attempted to remove her from her car.

She died due to massive blood loss.

Gibson fled and was on the run for 10 days before surrendering to Johnstown police.

COMMENTS