Grandparents offer killer a refuge

Grandson who shot their daughter, mate has prison time cut

June 22, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

When Timothy Scott Sherman was growing up, his maternal grandparents' house was a home away from home, a place where he spent weekends watching television or playing with neighbors' children.

On Oct. 12, 1987, it was the place where he fled after shotgunning his parents to death while they slept in their home in Gibson Manor in Harford County.

More than a decade later, Sherman again is looking to his grandparents, William and Erma Gibson, for refuge in his continuing struggle to get out of prison.

The Gibsons -- despite their daughter's murder at the hands of their grandson -- were a key part of Sherman's recent successful plea to have his double-life sentence reduced, giving him the possibility of parole in four years, prosecutors say.

In a move that has opened old wounds in the community, the judge suspended one of Sherman's life sentences and reduced the other to 40 years in the first-degree murders of Sherman's mother, Elizabeth Ann Sherman, and his adoptive father, Stevenson T. Sherman.

The ruling by Harford County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill has outraged the family of Stevenson Sherman.

"This reduction just isn't fair, and it sends a bad message to someone who may do what Timmy did," said Donna Scarborough, Stevenson Sherman's sister. "It's a sad ending to a sad story."

But the Gibsons, who say Timothy Sherman, now 29, is welcome to live in their home if he is released, remain steadfast supporters.

"He's not really a killer," said Erma Gibson, who, with her husband, has spent thousands of dollars on their grandson's defense. "He's never even harmed an animal. This was a spontaneous thing."

The sentence reduction June 7 drew protests from Stevenson Sherman's relatives and sharp words from the local prosecutor.

Through it all, the Gibsons have been prominent advocates for their grandson.

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said that while the Gibsons might be well-meaning, they are misguided. Cassilly, who argued strongly against the sentence reduction, said he believes Sherman is dangerous and must be held accountable for his crimes.

"He killed two people," Cassilly said. "He has to pay the price for that."

But others remain in Timothy Sherman's corner.

"I wouldn't at all be afraid to have Timmy living here," said Dr. Edward Kuhl, a neighbor and longtime friend of the Gibsons. "I've known him since he was a little boy, and the Gibsons are wonderful people."

The pain left by the murders is as deep and complex as the relationships between the families involved.

In 1987, Tim Sherman was a quiet 18-year-old graduate of C. Milton Wright High School. Slender and curly haired, he was in school part time at Harford Community College while working at a lumberyard.

His parents -- called Steve and Ann by those who knew them -- lived with their son and their respective families in Gibson Manor, a middle-class neighborhood five miles north of Bel Air.

The Gibsons and Shermans attended the same church, and 34-year-old Steve and 35-year-old Ann ran the service station owned by her father, William Gibson.

Friends say Timothy Sherman has always been close to his maternal grandparents, especially his grandfather.

"I don't think anybody has ever had as much support as this boy has had since it happened," said John Swam, a former service station employee who has known the Gibson family for about 35 years.

"As Timmy grew up, he relied on Mr. Gibson, and he couldn't have gotten a better example."

Timothy Sherman declined to be interviewed for this article, but court records show that the night of the murders, he ran to the Gibson home and told his grandfather he had heard screams and shots at his house.

Police found a 12-gauge Remington shotgun, with Timothy Sherman's fingerprints on it, lodged in a nearby pine tree and a box of ammunition with two shells missing stuffed under the teen-ager's mattress.

He was quickly arrested, and the community split into factions: those who believed him innocent and supported the Gibsons, and those who believed him guilty and supported the Shermans.

For years, Timothy Sherman denied that he was involved in the crime. But at a sentence reduction hearing in August, he admitted for the first time that he killed his parents after an argument over the family moving to Florida.

"I have regretted it from the moment I did it," he told the court. "I was just too scared and too immature and too afraid to admit what I had done and what I had taken away from my family and everyone else that was associated with my parents."

The confession did little to heal the chasm between the Gibsons and Shermans. Nor did it move the court to release Timothy Sherman.

The Gibsons see the subsequent sentence reduction as a tepid victory, doubting that he will be granted parole soon because of the nature of the crime.

The Gibsons' home is filled with memories of Timothy. On one wall is a photo of their grandson as a preschooler, leaning on a log, smiling happily for the camera. Next to it rests a picture of the boy's parents with a teen-age Timothy and his aunt and uncle Gail and Stuart Robinson.

The Gibsons insist that their grandson has grown into a responsible man in prison. They have prepared a room in their home for him, and neighbors have rallied to offer support.

But William Gibson, 73, fears that he and his 72-year old wife will not live to see the homecoming.

"People wonder how we can be so supportive, but I say I have to deal with what I have and what I have left," Gibson said. "We want him to come home so we can get him the help he needs."

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