James Gibson, who was sentenced to life in prison for a 1989 double murder. The Illinois appeals court granted him a new trial. | Prison photo.

James Gibson, serving life for 1989 double-murder, could go free on bond

A man serving a life sentence for a 1989 Englewood double-murder could be released on bond Thursday a month after an appeals court granted him a new trial based on allegations of torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

Following about 30 minutes of argument, and an hour spent reading a lengthy appellate-court opinion that sent James Gibson’s murder case to his courtroom, Judge Alfredo Maldonado on Wednesday postponed ruling on whether to grant Gibson bond while the 53-year-old awaits his new trial. Maldonado said he would rule Thursday morning.

Gibson’s lawyer argued that the appeals-court ruling pointed to flaws in the case against Gibson, and pointed out that many witnesses in the case have either died or recanted their testimony from Gibson’s 1990 bench trial. Key evidence against Gibson was his own statement that he was present at the time of the shooting, an admission Gibson has long maintained he made after he was beaten by Area 3 detectives who answered to Burge.

“This was a weak case in 1989,” said Joel Brodsky. “It is even weaker now.”

Bill Benjamin is the son of one of James Gibson’s alleged victims, insurance salesman Lloyd Benjamin. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Bill Benjamin is the son of one of James Gibson’s alleged victims, insurance salesman Lloyd Benjamin. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Special prosecutors, assigned to handle the case because the state’s attorney’s office has long been recused from handling cases tainted by allegations of torture by detectives under the command of Burge, have opposed granting Gibson bond, pointing to testimony of witnesses that is on the record from previous trials.

Gibson’s latest appeal won him both a new trial and a new judge to hear his case after Judge Neera Walsh twice denied his motions for a new trial. The case initially was reassigned to Judge William Hooks, who last year granted bond for Jackie Wilson, who was convicted alongside his brother of the murder of two Chicago Police officers in one of the first cases to be overturned because of allegations of torture by Burge and his men. Special prosecutors immediately requested a new judge, landing just a few doors down in Maldonado’s courtroom.

Gibson’s family about half-filled the gallery of Maldonado’s courtroom Wednesday, while seated alone on the other side of the gallery was Bill Benjamin, the son of one of Gibson’s alleged victims, insurance salesman Lloyd Benjamin.

As Bill Benjamin looked on, Gibson’s niece, Sarmarra Berks, told reporters in the courthouse lobby that she knew both Lloyd Benjamin and the other victim, mechanic Hunter “Mr. Smiley” Walsh, and that any delay in releasing Gibson was hurting both families.

“It is heart-wrenching knowing that no one wins on either side of the aisle,” Berks said, recalling years of trips to the courthouse to support her uncle. “Someone is just not looking at the families on either side of this … when someone decides let’s just draw this out as long as possible.”

Bill Benjamin, who spoke with Berks — and even accepted hugs from her and one of Gibson’s aunts — after the hearing, said he, too, attended the trial and hearings in Gibson’s case. Benjamin, however, said he believes Gibson is guilty.

“Everyone wants to advocate for murderers these days,” he said. “What about the victims?”

Bill Benjamin speaks to a relative of James Gibson. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Bill Benjamin speaks to a relative of James Gibson. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

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