On April 14, 1976, Barbara Jean Gilbert shot and killed her husband after 17 years of marriage marked by violent fights and infidelity by her husband.
Yesterday, following two trials and after the Prince George's County Parole and Probation Board recommended that she be placed on probation because of mitigating circumstances leading to the murder and her exemplary behavior since then, Gilbert was sentenced to eight years in jail.
"Believe me, Mrs. Gilbert, it is only in the highest sense of duty that I give you the following sentence . . . " said Judge Samuel W. H. Meloy pronouncing the maximum sentence for her crime.
"No," she said, as the judge's intent became clear. "No! I can't. I can't go back. I can't."
As sheriff's deputies stepped foward to place her in handcuffs, Gilbert collapsed on the floor, screaming, "I'll never go back. Never. Never."
Meloy left the courtroom and prosecutor Robert J. Matty rushed from the room. "I was shaking all over, he said later. "I went straight to the men's room. He would not criticize Meloy but said, "I think it's fair to say that this woman will gain nothing and society will gain nothing by having her spend time in jail."
Gilbert's three teen-aged daughters and her mother rushed forward to try to calm her as her father took her 4-year-old son, William Jr., from the courtroom. Not until 30 minutes later was Gilbert led, still sobbing, toward the jail.
Meloy's sentence stunned Gilbert's family and her attorney because the presentence recommendations of the parole and probation board are followed in more than 80 percent of all cases in Maryland. Prosecutor Matty had made no recommendation for a sentence. "Clearly this woman does not need rehabilitation," he said. "She does not need to be deterred either. So it comes down to punishment . . ."
Gilbert's attorney, Joseph DePaul, pleaded with the judge. "I know it takes an extraordinary situation to ask for probation in a case like this.But if ever a case has cried out for compassion, it is this one. Mrs. Gilbert has been and will be an asset to the community.
"She has suffered and will probably continue to suffer as a result of this, the rest of her life."
According to court testimony, Gilberts marriage to William Gilbert, a steamfitter, had never been happy. The two clashed often with the husband, who outweighed his wife by more than 100 pounds, hitting her and being hit in return.
On the night of the shooting Gilbert had returned home, allegedly seeking a reconciliation after he had been living with another woman for several weeks, but moments before Gilbert arrived, the other woman pulled up in front of Barbara Jean Gilbert's home in William Gilbert's car.
As Barbara Jean Gilbert tried to force her way into the car, her husband arrived and the two struggled briefly. At the end of the struggle she went into the house got a .22 caliber pistol from under a mattress, returned and shot her husband once in the chest. He died the next day. Gilbert testified that before she shot him her husband had laughed at her, saying, "Come on, shoot me, go ahead."
On July 21, 1976, Gilbert was convicted of first degree murder and carrying deadly weapon and sentenced by Judge William B. Bowie to life in prison for the murder charge and five years for the concealed weapon charge.
One month later, her mother hired a new attorney, DePaul, to represent her daughter. DePaul appealed the sentence, and asked Bowie to release her on bond, pending the appeal, which he did on Aug. 25, 1976.
On Oct. 21 of that year, a panel of three judges ruled on DePaul's appeal, suspending all but eight years of her sentence. DePaul also asked for a new trial, saying that Gilbert's attorney in the first trial had been incompetent. On Oct. 13, 1977, Chief Judge Ernest A. Loveless granted the new trial.
The second trial concluded the May 22 when the jury, after four hours of deliberation found Gilbert guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge than the original conviction. In the meantime, Gilbert had moved her family from District Heights to Hyattsville and she testified she "was trying to be a good mother and raise my family."
Before he pronounced sentence, Meloy, at 63, the oldest judge on the 7th circuit and number two man in seniority with 13 years on the bench, asked Gilbert if she had anything to say.
"I'm very sorry your honor," she said. "It was something I couldn't control. I didn't mean to take his life. I'm sorry."
The Meloy, who is known, according to several lawyers, for "strict and forceful sentences," pronounced sentence after explaining to Gilbert, "You have inflicted pain and deprivation, you have snuffed out a life. Therefore the court has a right to inflict pain and deprivation on you."
Meloy refused comment on the sentence later. DePaul.