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  •   D.C. Officer's Killer Given Life Sentence

    Shirley Gibson stops outside court after sentencing.
    Shirley Gibson stops outside court after sentencing. (James A. Parcell/TWP)
    By Bill Miller
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, April 24, 1998; Page C01

    Her son, a D.C. police officer, was killed last year when a gunman ambushed him in his patrol car. Yesterday, Shirley Gibson got her first chance to speak to the convicted assailant, Marthell N. Dean, as he sat in D.C. Superior Court, about to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    "You didn't know my son, or the type of person or man he was," Shirley Gibson began, standing less than 10 feet from Dean and his lawyers. "My son loved life. He loved living. Everything about him showed that. He loved being a police officer. Ever since he was 8, he wanted to be a police officer.

    "My son didn't know you and he didn't deserve to have to leave behind a wife, a daughter who is 12 and who will not even acknowledge that her dad is dead, and a 13-month-old daughter who will never get the chance to know him."

    Dean looked at Shirley Gibson as she spoke, but showed no emotion. The mother of the slain officer, however, began crying when she returned to sit beside her husband in the gallery.

    In large part, the outcome of yesterday's proceeding was a foregone conclusion. Dean, 24, was convicted by a jury Feb. 18 of the first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, an offense punishable under District law by a mandatory life term without parole. Judge Frederick H. Weisberg imposed that sentence, saying, "I cannot imagine a more heinous, atrocious or cruel homicide."

    But the proceeding offered a venue for the airing of pent-up emotions. Besides hearing from Shirley Gibson, Weisberg listened to Dean's mother, Lillie C. Spruill, who spoke in defense of her son. Dean cried after his mother's remarks and then, in a shaky voice, declared: "I am sorry for what happened, but I did not commit this murder. I maintain my innocence now and until I leave the face of this earth."

    Brian T. Gibson, 27, was a decorated master patrol officer assigned to the department's 4th District, north of downtown.

    Dean is an eighth-grade dropout who has been in and out of trouble with the law since age 16. Prosecutors said he was a longtime crack dealer.

    He was accused of shooting Gibson on Feb. 5, 1997, as the officer sat in his patrol car in the early morning darkness, waiting at a traffic light at Missouri and Georgia avenues NW. Assistant U.S. Attorney June M. Jeffries said yesterday that Dean was inches away when he fired four shots into the patrol car.

    The shooting came after Dean had been ejected from the nearby Ibex nightclub by a uniformed off-duty D.C. police officer. Gibson, who had nothing to do with what happened at the Ibex, was in full uniform and on a routine patrol. He died within blocks of the 4th District station.

    Dozens of people packed into the courtroom yesterday, including Gibson's widow, Tracie, who held their 13-month-old daughter. U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis showed up, as did numerous colleagues of Gibson's, many in uniform.

    Shirley Gibson, 52, said later that she directed her comments to Dean, instead of the judge, because, "I did not want [Dean] to spend the rest of his life not knowing about Brian Gibson from a family's point of view."

    More than 1,200 people submitted letters to Weisberg urging that Dean get the maximum possible penalty.

    Dean's attorneys also submitted letters, including some that described him as a "gentle" person who "fell prey to life on the streets." His mother accused the police – in a letter to the judge and again yesterday in court – of bungling the investigation. She called his three-week trial "a textbook case in reasonable doubt." She expressed sympathy for Gibson's family but said, "They don't really care who goes to jail as long as someone does. Someone has to pay."

    Dean was arrested just 70 seconds after the shooting, when patrol officers saw him a half-block from the crime scene. The officers testified that they saw Dean thrown down the gun that turned out to have been used in the slaying. Several hours later, according to homicide detectives, Dean admitted that he had fired the shots.

    Despite that evidence, prosecutors had to overcome many obstacles in the trial. Homicide detectives failed to get Dean's alleged admissions on videotape and did not take notes during the questioning. Their actions deeply troubled several jurors, who said that they were appalled by what they felt was shockingly sloppy work in such an important case. The jury, at one point, declared itself "hopelessly deadlocked," but was ordered to continue deliberating and later returned with the guilty verdict.

    Shirley Gibson, however, said she had no reservations about Dean's conviction and sentence, adding, "We feel a sense of justice having been served. ... I'll never believe the police department got just anyone for the sake of having someone go to jail. It would have meant Brian died in vain."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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