WILMINGTON, DEL. -- A judge ruled that because a woman could not prevent her son from skipping bail, her home, which was used as security, cannot be forfeited.

In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge James L. Latchum denied the federal government's request to forfeit the $50,000 bail and take Phyllis Gibbs's home. Latchum instead revoked bail for Hertford Gibbs, 29.

Hertford Gibbs faked a suicide and fled the state the day before he was to be sentenced on a drug conviction.

Latchum ruled that since the family "had no prior knowledge of defendant's hoax or any idea that he would refuse to appear for sentencing, they had no opportunity to prevent him from perpetrating his faked suicide.

"There was no indication to anyone that defendant would, at that minute, act as he did," Latchum ruled.

Gibbs, 51, of Lewes, who had put up her home to cover the bail, was in court Monday, trying to save her home. She had offered to pay $25 a month from her disability income to remain in her home. Another son, Albert Johnson, also agreed to pay $25 a month.

Johnson and Gibbs bought the house for $25,000 in 1978. The government had not had the house appraised.

Robert Hornstein, Gibbs's attorney, said the family was "absolutely thrilled with the judge's careful consideration of the facts and his faithful application of the law."

Federal prosecutor Beth E. Moskow had asked the court to consider putting a lien on the home, rather than throwing Gibbs out.

"The human reaction is I didn't want her to be thrown out. But as a prosecutor, I don't want defendants to feel they can jump bail and not suffer the consequences," Moskow said.

Hertford Gibbs, a football star in 1979 at Cape Henlopen High School, was caught in a police undercover operation that targeted crack cocaine dealers operating in West Rehoboth Beach, Del.

In June, he pleaded guilty to selling $50 worth of the drug to a state trooper. Previous convictions of robbery and burglary meant Gibbs was a federal career criminal.

He was scheduled for sentencing Aug. 24. But the day before, he abandoned his car atop the Freeman Bridge in Lewes. He left a note inside that said he would rather die than be sentenced as a career criminal. He faced a minimum 14 1/2 years in prison.

He was caught five days later in Allentown, Pa., allegedly processing 13 ounces of cocaine.