CHESTERFIELD, Va. – Almost four years after nurse Zulma Pabon disappeared, and her body never found, her boyfriend Dr. John Gibbs was sentenced to 50 years for the first-degree murder of the 26-year-old woman.
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.
Multiple people testified at his trial that Gibbs acted unusually in the immediate days and weeks following the disappearance of his girlfriend, by 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.
Gibbs, formerly a doctor at Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation, dated Pabon over six years and they had a child together named Joseph, who is currently in the custody of Gibbs’ family members.
The judge accepted the jury’s sentencing terms of 50 years, no fine. They were told to consider life in prison, life in prison and a fine, and at least 20 years in prison or at least 20 years and fine.
Yalitza Soba, Pabon’s sister said during the initial sentencing phase that her mother and father have been very sick, physically and mentally, since Pabon disappeared. 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.
“My sister was a strong, independent, loving woman,” Soba said, previously. “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.”
The trial had to prove murder beyond reasonable doubt, without the victim’s body
The jury was told during the trial that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gibbs killed Pabon, even if a body has not been recovered.
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.
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.
For all stories covering the disappearance of Zulma Pabon, click here.