Portrait painted of a selfish, vain, angry man

UPDATED: Prosecution Wraps Up Gilbert Murder Trial




UPDATED June 19, 2019

The prosecution of Thomas Gilbert Jr., charged with murdering his father on January 4, 2015, wrapped up June 17, with an expert witness laying out a timeline for the jury to consider when it begins its deliberations.

The prosecution has painted a picture through testimony and evidence of a playboy surfer living off his parents’ money, turning to murder when his father greatly reduced his allowance. The trial of Gilbert, who turns 35 next month, is now in its fourth week of testimony.

After being removed twice during the early days of the trial for repeatedly objecting to questions asked by attorneys, including his own, Arnold Levine, Gilbert has exercised his right to not be present in the courtroom.

According to prosecutors, Gilbert was self-absorbed, with a cruel streak. He hated to work, witnesses have said. Records of deposits into his bank account indicate that he received $400,000 between 2011 and 2014 from his father, known as Tom Gilbert, and his mother, Shelley Gilbert. Beyond the $400,000, the parents also made direct payments for many of their son’s bills.

Anger toward his father built over the last two years of the older man’s life. In the final few months, Tom Gilbert steadily cut back the money he was paying his son directly, from $1000 a week, to the final payment of $300, which hit Tommy Gilbert’s bank account the day after his father’s death.

The prosecution’s final witness, Holly Burns-LaRiche, read to the jury a series of emails sent between the parents and their son. In one, Tommy writes to his father, “Please stop emailing me, as I am obviously not responding.” When Tom Gilbert tries to make a rapprochement, inviting his son to a luncheon at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, the son writes back, “Again I request no emails. Please stop so I don’t have to change my email address. This is a form of harassment.”

Problems At The Maidstone

Tom Gilbert’s older brother, G.S. Beckwith Gilbert, testified last week that he had often advised his brother that Tommy needed to get a job. At one point, Tommy Gilbert asked his uncle to make a phone call for him to a possible investor in a hedge fund the younger man was planning at one point. The uncle said he offered the same advice to his nephew as he had received from his own father when he had just returned from Princeton for the summer, and wanted a job at his father’s bank. “I asked him to talk to Mr. Wriston about a summer job. He said, ‘You know him. You call him.’ I did, and I got the job,” he said.

Walter Wriston was chairman and CEO of Citicorp from 1967 to 1984.

In the summer of 2014, Gilbert said his nephew pressed him to help him get into the Devon Yacht Club as a junior member. Previous testimony has shown that Gilbert had been having problems at the Maidstone Club, where he had long been a member. Tommy Gilbert wanted to play tennis at Devon and pressed his uncle, despite being repeatedly told he was not eligible.

In the summer of 2014, Tommy Gilbert was seeing Briana Swanson, who has since married and taken the name Briana Ressner. He lived with her in a summer rental in Amagansett. At one point, she got the two of them jobs, with her working as the cook for a party and Gilbert serving as the bartender. He sat all evening, she recalled. The only time she saw him work was a couple of times when he went to Main Beach Surf and Sport, and picked up a class or two teaching surfing. That was a rarity.

All he wanted to do, she said, was surf and work out. “He wanted to stay out in the Hamptons because he loved to surf.”

She testified that he was often cruel to her. He would invite her out on the Hampton Jitney, then tell her to return to Manhattan. He was frequently unfaithful. She forgave him, she said. “He was extremely good looking, which is why I let him get away with such things,” she said.

Before seeing Swanson, Gilbert dated Anna Rothschild, 19 years his senior. “Something was really, really off. I didn’t know what it was,” she told the jury. She was then asked, why she kept seeing him. “Because he was extremely good looking.”

The Timeline

On Friday, June 14, Dr. Michelle Slone, who specializes in pathology for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office of New York City, told the jury that Thomas Gilbert Sr had been declared dead at 3:42 PM, on Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Two days before Slone testified — on Wednesday, June 12 — the prosecution introduced into evidence the call log from Tommy Gilbert’s cell phone. The log is notated with cell phone tower locations, enabling investigators to determine from where the calls were likely made.

According to the phone log, at almost the same moment that his father was being declared dead by first responders at his Beekman Place apartment, Tommy Gilbert, who had just returned to his Chelsea residence after allegedly shooting the older man in the head at pointblank range, began frantically trying to reach his attorney at the time, Alex Spiro.

Spiro had represented Gilbert during his previous brushes with the law, including an assault charge in Williamsburg a little more than a year earlier.

The log placed Gilbert at his apartment when he began making calls following his father’s murder. At 3:51 PM, long before police showed up at Gilbert’s door, Tommy Gilbert allegedly began repeatedly calling two phone numbers, one to Spiro’s cellphone, the other to Brafman & Associates, where Spiro formerly worked. Most of the calls were under a minute long, and were seemingly voice messages left by Gilbert.

At 4:01 PM, he called his mother, Shelley Gilbert, and then called her again, according to the log. Each call lasted less than a minute.

At 4:08 PM, his mother returned his call. Detectives were already talking to her, and advised her not to say anything about the murder, the jury has been told.

Finally, at 10:15 PM, after 22 apparent attempts to reach his attorney, Gilbert received a call from a cell phone number associated online with Andrea Zellan, a lawyer with the Brafman firm. Gilbert and Zellan talked, according to the log, for over 13 minutes.

After the call with Zellan concluded at 10:29 PM, Gilbert surrendered to police, cooperating as officers told him through the now open peephole on the apartment door to lay down on the floor.

The next day, Zellan represented him for his arraignment on multiple charges, including one of intentional murder. If convicted of that charge alone, Gilbert will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, under New York State law.

It has been agreed between the prosecuting attorneys, Sara Sullivan and Craig Ortner, and Levine, that due to the lawyer-client privilege, the identity of the numbers Gilbert called will not be revealed to the jury.

Levine is arguing that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect at the time of the crime.

 

22 frantic calls made before an attorney called back; defense claims insanity

On Friday, June 14, Dr. Michelle Slone, who specializes in pathology for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office of New York City, told the jury that Thomas Gilbert Sr had been declared dead at 3:42 PM, on Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Two days before Slone testified — on Wednesday, June 12 — the prosecution introduced into evidence the call log from what they say was Tommy Gilbert’s cell phone. The log is notated with cell phone tower locations, enabling investigators to determine from where the calls were likely to be made.

It appears, from evidence presented, that at almost the same moment that his father, Thomas Gilbert, Sr. was being declared dead by first responders at his Beekman Place apartment, Tommy Gilbert, who had just returned to his Chelsea residence after allegedly shooting the older man in the head at pointblank range, began frantically trying to reach his attorney, Alex Spiro.

Spiro had represented Gilbert during his previous brushes with the law, including an assault charge in Williamsburg a little more than a year earlier. Spiro left the Brafman & Associates firm in 2017, and Arnold Levine, who is not connected with the Brafman firm, took over. Levine is arguing that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect at the time of the crime.

The log placed Gilbert at his apartment when he began dialing out following his father’s murder. At 3:51 PM, nine minutes after his father was declared dead, Gilbert allegedly began repeatedly calling two phone numbers, one a direct line to Alex Spiro’s Boston phone voicemail, the other to Brafman & Associates. Most of the calls were under a minute long, and were seemingly voice messages left by Gilbert.

At 4:01 PM, he called his mother, Shelley Gilbert, and then called her again, according to the log. Each call lasted less than a minute. First responders were already on the scene of the Beekman Place murder by that time.

At 4:08 PM, his mother returned his call. Detectives were already talking to her, and advised her not to say anything about the murder, the jury has been told.

Finally, at 10:15 PM, after 22 apparent attempts to reach his attorney, he received a call from a cell phone number associated online with Andrea Zellan, an lawyer with the Brafman firm. Gilbert and Zellan talked, according to the log, for over 13 minutes.

After the call with Zellan concluded at 10:29 PM, Gilbert surrendered to police, cooperating as officers told him through the now open peephole on the apartment door to lay down on the floor.

The next day, Zellan represented him for his arraignment on multiple charges, including one of intentional murder. If convicted of that charge alone, Thomas Strong Gilbert Jr. will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, under New York State law.

t.e@indyeastend.com