CHESTERFIELD, Va. – On day nine of the first-degree murder trial of Dr. John Gibbs, a jury of nine women and three men returned a guilty verdict after nine hours after deliberation. Gibbs' girlfriend Zulma Pabon vanished without a trace, and was last seen alive on Friday evening, June 6, 2014. Her co-workers at St. Francis Medical Hospital reported her missing the following Monday.
Gibbs stood when the jury delivered the verdict, but immediately dropped to his seat. Pabon’s family could be heard quietly crying. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Pabon's older sister testified about the mental fragility of her family after Pabon's murder.
"My mom and dad have been very sick, physically and mentally," said Yalitza Soba, Pabon’s sister. She also told the judge that Pabon's son Joseph asks for his mother all the time. He asked for a phone for Christmas to contact his mother. Gibbs' family members currently have custody of Joseph.
The defense team told the jury during sentencing that Gibbs was a dedicated physician, the first doctor in his family. They said he helped the Pabon family financially at some point and implored the jury to find mercy for the man, despite their verdict.
The jury chose 50 years, no fine for the sentencing term. They were told to consider life in prison, life in prison and a fine, at least 20 years in prison or at least 20 years and fine.
Gibbs will remain behind bars until his formal sentencing on March 12 .
"My sister was a strong, independent, loving woman," Soba said. "Great mother, amazing person, inside and out. It breaks my heart that this had to happen. I’m glad he’s not going to be able to do anything like that to anybody else. Just being able to have some justice for her and knowing that she’s so loved and so cared for means the world to me."
"I appreciate everyone who has been by our side since day one," Soba added.
The trial had to prove murder beyond reasonable doubt, without the victim's body
Multiple people testified that Gibbs, a doctor at Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation, acted unusually in the immediate days and weeks following the disappearance of his girlfriend -- not expressing much grief, providing scant details to family, friends and co-workers and even without notice taking the two children on a 10-day road trip.
He dated Pabon over six years and they had a child together named Joseph.
Gibbs sister testified that she and Gibbs were very close and spoke multiple times a day, including before, during and after Pabon went missing. Yet, she said Gibbs never once mentioned to her that Pabon had gone missing or that he was going on a road trip with the kids or that Pabon's car had been later found.
The jury was told that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gibbs killed Pabon, even if a body has not been recovered.
Over five days last week, the Commonwealth presented largely circumstantial evidence that revealed a strain between Gibbs and Pabon.
The timeline immediately before and after Pabon’s disappearance was marked by a flurry of 27 calls between their two phones, Pabon’s confession to a co-worker that she wanted to leave Gibbs and had been cutting herself, Pabon’s car driven away from their home on June 7 with Gibbs returning on foot a short while later, Pabon’s car seen on film being towed later that night from a parking lot near their residence, and her car found the next week outside a trailer park, and Gibbs leaving town for 10 days immediately after it was found.
Police have maintained that Gibbs never accommodated law enforcement during the investigation, though they said it was his constitutional right not to cooperate.
The defense attempted to present a narrative that Pabon was depressed and a “party animal” drinking so heavily that she urinated on herself. They offered counter narratives that she was never found because either she was abducted by MS-13 gang members or that she died from self-inflicted injuries and was never found.
The defense pointed out that no trailers were searched in the Greenleigh Mobile Park near where Pabon’s car was recovered on June 16.
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Hogan, who successfully prosecuted a no body case with a second-degree murder verdict in Leyla Namiranian’s murder, spotlighted Gibbs’ questionable actions.
Gibbs wasn’t ever seen on foot walking throughout the neighborhood, a neighbor and former law enforcement officer testified. Yet within minutes of Pabon’s car being moved from the house on June 7, he reappeared on foot. Hogan confirmed that Gibbs also never again tried to call Pabon, though she wasn’t reported missing until June 9.
Gibbs also purchased 23 bottles of drain cleaner, and muriatic acid, weeks after Pabon disappeared. Gibbs also searched on Google how much ether is required to knock someone out.