DANVILLE — A 45-year-old Danville man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for beating his mother to death last Christmas.
Vermilion County Circuit Judge Nancy Fahey sentenced Michael T. Gibbs to the prison term on Thursday, after Gibbs pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the death of his mother, 84-year-old Ethel Gibbs of Danville.
"I believe it was an appropriate punishment," State's Attorney Randy Brinegar said, adding the evidence did not indicate the woman's death was premeditated. He added Michael Gibbs must serve the majority of his sentence as he wasn't eligible to receive day-for-day credit for good behavior, although he was credited with already having served 242 days behind bars.
"I feel justice has been served," said Mrs. Gibbs' cousin, Carol Danbury, who testified at the hearing that Mrs. Gibbs was loved by her extended family and church family and that her death was a devastating loss. "Because of his age, 30 years will probably be a life sentence for him."
Danbury discovered her cousin's body in the bedroom of her apartment at Immanuel Senior Residences, at 1415 Eastview Ave., Danville, on Dec. 25. She had gone to check on her relative after she failed to show up for the worship service at First Baptist Church that morning.
An autopsy showed Mrs. Gibbs died of blunt-force trauma, Brinegar said. He said after the woman was severely beaten to death, a Bible had been placed over her face.
Police arrested Gibbs later that afternoon. He was charged with four counts of first-degree murder two days later.
Danbury said Michael Gibbs was the only child of Mrs. Gibbs and her late-husband, Ted. The couple adopted him when he was an infant. Danbury said Michael Gibbs started drinking at age 10 and later began using drugs. She said his alcohol and drug abuse led him to lose his temper and become violent.
"Ethel tried to get help for him," Danbury recalled of her cousin, whom she described as a devout Christian and loving mother. "She never turned her back on him no matter what he did. She always showed God's love, unconditional love, to Mike."
Michael Gibbs was sentenced to prison in Missouri in November 1998 for driving while intoxicated and assault and released from all supervision in September 2006, according to a spokesman from the Missouri Department of Corrections. Upon his release, he came to Danville where his mother had moved in 2005, Danbury recalled.
Danbury said her cousin's son did seasonal work for a local masonry company and had his own apartment for more than a year. When he lost his apartment, he moved into the Danville Rescue Mission but was later kicked out.
"Basically, he ended up homeless," Danbury said, adding he moved in with his mom but could only stay for 30 days per the apartment complex's rules. He had been living in a tent in a woody area near the complex at the time of the murder.
Danbury believes Michael Gibbs was high when he went to his mother's apartment on Christmas and became violent. Police later found drugs, including crack cocaine, in his tent.
Danbury said she hopes her cousin's son will become sober in prison and develop a relationship with God and find forgiveness.
"That is what we're praying for," Danbury said, adding her cousin often requested prayers for her son at church. "If Ethel was alive she would still be praying for him. I know she wouldn't want us to become bitter or let bitterness grow in our hearts. That would only hurt us."