Thomas Gilbert Jr. Murder Trial In New Year

Craig Ortner, lead prosecutor in the Thomas Gilbert murder case in Manhattan, leaving court last week after blaming the defense for what will be a four-year wait by the time the case goes to trial. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

Thomas Gilbert Jr., who allegedly murdered his father, then staged the scene to make it look as though he had killed himself, will be going on trial come the new year, four years after the crime, New York State Justice Melissa Jackson said in her Manhattan courtroom last week. She spoke to Gilbert directly during a roughly seven-minute-long court session October 30.

Gilbert, a Princeton grad whose family had a house in Georgica Association in East Hampton, and were members of the Maidstone Club, allegedly murdered his father after sending his mother, Shelly Gilbert, out on an errand the afternoon of January 4, 2015, the New York Police Department reported. Gilbert has been held on Rikers Island without the possibility of bail since his arrest the day after the murder.

Gilbert has refused to talk to either his lawyer, Arthur Levine, or to the psychologists assigned to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial.

“We are here today, mostly, because I want to speak with you, sir,” Justice Jackson said after Gilbert was brought into the courtroom from a holding cell. She told Gilbert she was aware that he was not speaking to Levine. “I advise you, sir, that it is in your best interest to cooperate with your attorney. Do you understand me?” Gilbert nodded yes, several times. “I see you’re nodding. If you prefer not to speak with me orally, on the record, and you would prefer head gestures, I understand it. So, I am glad you understand what I am doing.”

She told Gilbert he had the right not to talk to Levine if he so chose, but that Levine was an excellent attorney, “one of the best in this courthouse, and he would give you a very effective
defense in this case.”

Justice Jackson then told Gilbert, “I am moving the case to trial. I know it has been a long time for you.” She told him that it was important that he understand that whether he talks to his lawyer or not, “the court is going to put this case on. You understand me? I see you’re nodding your head.”

Gilbert has had well over four dozen court dates, including several hearings handled by his first attorney, Alex Spiro. He also has been the subject of several psychiatric exams, since the beginning of 2015. Spiro had a previous legal relationship with Gilbert before he was charged with murder, having represented him when he was accused of assaulting a former friend and roommate in Brooklyn. But earlier this year, Spiro changed law firms, and Levine was retained by Gilbert’s family. Gilbert’s mother, Shelly Gilbert, who was the one who discovered that her husband had been murdered, has been at each and every court appearance.

Justice Jackson told Gilbert that he has the right, if he so chooses, not to be present during the trial, but that the trial would go on, regardless, and that he could be convicted and sentenced even if not present.

Craig Ortner, the lead prosecutor on the case, said that the onus for the long delay before going to trial, including the latest delay, was on the defense. “This entire period of delay is due solely to the clinic’s inability to furnish a report on the mental competency as requested by the defense,” he said. He added that the vast majority of delays over the past four years have been due “to the defense requests, particularly requests for competency evaluations.”

Justice Jackson again spoke directly to the defendant. She told Gilbert that she was aware that he has repeatedly refused to speak with the doctors assigned to him, adding that Gilbert was within his rights to do so. She followed that with a warning about the latest competency exam, which she ordered several months ago. “I do want you to know that if you don’t want to speak with them, if you don’t want to do so, this case will continue. If there is no report for this court, this court will continue, and the trial will commence.” Justice Jackson then asked, “So, do you understand me, Mr. Gilbert? I see you are nodding. So you do understand.”

She set the next court date for December 11, and concluded by saying, “Hopefully we will have a trial date.”

“I think there will be a final report,” Levine said outside the courthouse. “The question is, will the final report say that they cannot reach a conclusion?” He said that Gilbert never speaks to him. “Once in a while, he will nod, but I can’t get any information out of him.”

Levine expressed concern that, without a definitive report, Justice Jackson will “go with the presumption of competency or not, her own observations, and her own findings in the past.” Justice Jackson previously found, in December 2015, Gilbert to be mentally competent to stand trial and to aid and assist in his own defense if he so chooses. She did so after receiving conflicting reports from several doctors.

“I have a good idea of what she thinks as to whether this is due to mental illness or he is just being difficult, obstructionist. I think it is a result of his mental illness,” Levine said. “But those who don’t go to see him in the jail, and who haven’t talked to his mother in some way, and haven’t gone through all his records, or have their own agenda of just trying to get a conviction and the case through” could come to a very different conclusion, Levine said.

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