After five weeks of testimony, and two days of deliberations, a jury in Manhattan on Friday, June 28, found Thomas Gilbert Jr. guilty of murdering his father.
Known as Tommy, the son, who hadn’t spoken with his parents for many weeks, knocked on their apartment door on Beekman Place the afternoon of January 4, 2015. After sending his mother, Shelley Gilbert, out on an errand, he went into the bedroom of Thomas Gilbert Sr., known as Tom. The father was lying on his bed, watching the Cincinnati Bengals play the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of NFL playoffs.
Gilbert pulled a Glock .40 caliber handgun out of a bag he was carrying, pressed it against his father’s left temple, and pulled the trigger. The bullet that he fired had a hollowed-out nose, making it flatten out once it struck Tom Gilbert’s head, opening in his skull a hole about the width of a quarter. The victim’s body fell to the floor with a loud thump, heard by the downstairs neighbor.
Gilbert placed the gun on his father’s chest, and left the building, returning to his apartment in Chelsea.
Gilbert was 30 when he killed his father. He had never held a steady job, and his parents financed his lifestyle, which included round-the-world surfing trips and memberships in exclusive clubs like the Maidstone in East Hampton. He worked out and played tennis and golf when he wasn’t surfing or womanizing. During his closing argument, prosecutor Craig Ortner quoted Gilbert from a session with a psychiatrist. “Money means power, stature, beautiful women, and philanthropy.”
In the second half of 2014, Tom Gilbert began practicing “tough love,” the jury was told, cutting back on his son’s allowance. It was greed that was the motive for the son to murder the father, Ortner said.
Three jurors spoke with reporters outside the courtroom after rendering their verdict. There never was any doubt that Gilbert had shot his father at point-blank range. It was a point the defense did not contest.
The only point the jury grappled with was the claim by Gilbert’s lawyer, Arnold Levine, that his client was legally insane at the time of the murder, and therefore not responsible for his actions. A day into deliberations, the jury was split about 50-50, guilty versus guilty but not legally responsible by reason of insanity.
In the end, the jurors said, it was the errand that Gilbert sent his mother out on that proved the difference. Shelley Gilbert had testified that her son had asked her to go out and get him a sandwich. She responded that she could make him a sandwich in the kitchen. He then asked for a Coke. “We never keep Coke in the house,” Shelley Gilbert had told the jury. It was that rationality, the use of the knowledge by Gilbert that his mother would not have Coca-Cola in the house, that turned the jurors against the insanity defense.
One fact the jury was not told, due to lawyer/client protections under the law, was that the moment Tommy Gilbert returned to his 18th Street apartment, he began feverishly calling his then-attorney Alex Spiro, well before the police showed up, and news of the murder went viral across social media and the internet.
“They are asking you to excuse a murderer from criminal responsibility,” Craig Ortner told the jury during his closing argument June 26 about the defense. Tom Gilbert was murdered, Ortner said, because “he had the audacity to demand that his son grow up and take responsibility for his life. . . The free ride was coming to an end.”
Levine, who had argued all along that Gilbert was not mentally competent to stand trial, said he would appeal the verdict. Gilbert will be sentenced on August 9. He faces 25 years to life in prison, along with the potential for more time to be added to the sentence based on two other counts the jury found him guilty of, involving criminal possession of a weapon.