Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kalamazoo, MI: As trial for murder suspect Besham Sugrim draws near, family of Linda Gibson hopeful for justice

KALAMAZOO — For years, one question had haunted the siblings of Linda Kay Gibson: Who killed their sister?
In the end, they say it was neither a tip nor the work of police that led to an arrest — but the pleas for help of an 11-year-old girl.
“She's the true hero in all of this,” said Brenda Alsup, one of Gibson's four sisters.
The answers Gibson's family had sought since 2003 began to come forth in May the moment the girl, badly beaten, ran from her Oshtemo Township home to escape her father, Besham Brian Sugrim, and ask a neighbor to call police.
At the scene on May 16, the girl told a Kalamazoo County sheriff's deputy her father had struck her at least 50 times with a martial-arts stick and let the family's dog drag her around the yard because she could not get the pet to submit to her.
“The whole time I was speaking with (her), she was shaking, crying with lips quivering and in total fear of her father and for the safety of her mother and brother,” Deputy Mark Caley wrote of the girl in a report about the incident.
Sugrim's arrest that day prompted his wife, Bernadette, to tell Kalamazoo Public Safety investigators how Sugrim had told her in 2003 that he had killed Gibson in the couple's van, dumped her body near the end of Alcott Street in Kalamazoo's Edison neighborhood and then had a friend destroy the van.
His reason for killing Gibson? Bernadette Sugrim told police her husband had killed her because Gibson resembled his wife.
By July, prosecutors charged Sugrim with first-degree murder in connection with Gibson's slaying.
“I am so sad for her that I wish that after all this is done to get word to her to thank her,” Tina Slattery, one of Gibson's sisters, said recently of the Sugrims' daughter. “I thank her.
"If that child hadn't run away that day, none of this would have ever come up.”
Family frustrations

While they are thankful to Sugrim's daughter for her actions last year, Gibson's sisters are less than forgiving of Bernadette Sugrim, and even police.
They say they are angry that Bernadette Sugrim waited eight years to come forward with key information about the case and they they got “a big runaround” from police “for years” and feel that the case would have gotten more attention if not for Gibson's checkered past of drug use and prostitution.
“It messes with my mind to know that a woman could have gone at anytime and told someone about this,” said Donna Alsup, Gibson's sister. “I give (Bernadette Sugrim) a little bit of credit but I don't give her a lot of credit … I want to have sympathy for her but when I think about what I would do, this woman had too many outs.”
At an evidentiary hearing in July, Bernadette Sugrim testified that she never came forward to police in 2003 because she was afraid of her husband and he had threatened to kill her, their children and her family if she ever told of his involvement in Gibson's killing.
Bernadette Sugrim also told prosecutors that her husband had killed before, shooting a 60-year-old man to death in the basement of his parents' home in New York state. Investigators in Sullivan County, N.Y., confirmed last year that Besham Sugrim is the prime suspect in the 1995 slaying of Demetrius Carter.
Besham Sugrim, for now, is serving a sentence of 56 months to 10 years at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia for the May assault on his daughter. He pleaded no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder in the case.
In an interview with a Kalamazoo Gazette reporter in November at the prison, Sugrim confirmed that he saw Gibson the day of her death and that she had been in his van. However, he denied killing Gibson and said he never told his wife that he had anything to do with the slaying.
'We love you Linda Kay'

Gibson's family is hopeful for more answers and possibly a bit of closure next week when Sugrim's trial begins in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court.
Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
“I'm dreading the trial but I want to know what happened to my sister,” Donna Alsup said. “That courtroom's going to be packed with our family.”
In the end, Alsup and Gibson's other sisters say they want justice for Gibson but are also hopeful that those in attendance at the trial — both in the gallery and in the jury box — will get a true picture of who their sister was.
Donna Alsup said her sister was a loving mother and sister whose life was derailed by drugs.
Alsup said Gibson's family fought futilely for years to get Gibson's off drugs and to leave life on the streets out of fear that she would someday end up dead.

No one in Gibson's family had seen her since 2000 before they got word of her death in 2003.
Several of Gibson's family members, including three of her sisters, went to Lane Boulevard near where Gibson was found on Jan. 23 on what would have been Gibson's 48th birthday.
They hung balloons and brought with them a photo of Gibson when she was about 14 years old.
The field where Gibson's body was found eight years ago is blocked now by a fence.
As Donna Alsup stared through the chain links at the field that day, tears filled her eyes.
“It kills me to know she laid back there like that,” Donna Alsup said.
Later, as family members began to leave Lane Boulevard, Donna Alsup held the picture of her sister in her hands, eyeing the photo before kissing it.
“We love you Linda Kay,” she said.

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