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Old December 14th, 2006, 07:57 AM
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Gibian guilty of murder in samurai slay case

Gibian guilty of murder in samurai slay case

BY ALFONSO A. CASTILLO
Newsday Staff Writer

December 13, 2006, 11:54 PM EST

Hours after telling a judge that they remained deadlocked after deliberating for seven days, jurors Wednesday found Zachary Gibian guilty of murdering his stepfather with a samurai sword as he slept on the couch of his Hauppauge home.

The verdict came shortly before 4 p.m., just three hours after it seemed certain the jury would never reach a decision, and a mistrial declared. After receiving a note that the jury remained stuck, State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle asked jurors if they thought further deliberations were "useless." Minutes later, they returned another note that read, "The jury will stay."

Later, jurors reviewed for the third time in their deliberations Gibian's conflicting videotaped confession and trial testimony. Less than 15 minutes later, they reached a decision.

Gibian, 20, dropped his head and briefly shut his eyes after hearing the jury forewoman read the verdict, then returned to his usual position -- seated at the defense table with his hands folded. But moments later, his shoulders shook uncontrollably as he bowed his head and sobbed.

His attorney, William Keahon of Islandia, put an arm around Gibian and consoled him. As Gibian left the courtroom, he turned to his biological father, Gary Gibian, and tried to talk through his tears. His father gestured to him with one hand and told him, "Try to relax." Other supporters blew him kisses and wept loudly.

As Gibian was removed in handcuffs, several of Scott Nager's friends and relatives huddled together, their arms interlocked, and quietly cried.

"When I heard it, I was very happy that ... he was proven guilty," said Nager's father, Nathan Nager, 82, of Whitestone. "But then when I reflected on it, it's an empty thing, because I still don't have my son back."

Gibian faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced by Doyle on Jan. 10. Gibian was charged with the Feb. 27, 2005 slaying of Nager, a retired New York City police officer. Prosecutors said Gibian resented his stepfather, who was trying to rein in the teen after he fell in with the wrong crowd.

Gibian confessed to police, but testified during the trial that he took the blame to protect his mother, Laura Nager, who he said actually committed the murder after she walked in on her husband sexually abusing her son.

"My son is innocent," Gary Gibian said as he left the court. "He always was innocent. The wrong person is in jail."

The final juror who held out for acquittal said the pressure was intense. "I tried like hell to get the other guys to switch back," said Gerard Whelan of Hauppauge.

Keahon said he believed jurors were coerced into a verdict and that Doyle should have declared a mistrial after Wednesday's note saying they were deadlocked.

"I think a real problem is when they're pushed and pushed and pushed beyond a point where they indicate that they could no longer reach a verdict, a result like this happens," Keahon said. "I firmly believe in Zach's innocence and I intend to continue to fight for him."

Among the "many, many issues" that may be part of an appeal were a juror's discovery Tuesday night of copies of official court documents involving the case inside the jury room, Keahon said.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti said he was "relieved" by the verdict, which he said came after jurors "kept on going back to what we thought was the most compelling part of our case" -- the video confession.

"The evidence was strong," Prudenti said. "And we're grateful they made the right decision."

Gibian's mother learned of the verdict Wednesday from a Newsday reporter. Nager, 49, who had just woken from a late afternoon nap, paused upon hearing of her son's murder conviction. Tears then rolled down her face and she broke into sobs.

"I'm just not able to comment," Nager said. "I've been alone throughout this whole thing."

Although prosecutors have said they do not believe Laura Nager committed the murder, they have said she may have "criminal exposure" for her role in it. Hours after the slaying, Nager lied to police in a 911 call in which she said her husband was killed in a burglary.

She has also sued to collect $2 million on her husband's life insurance policy. John Collins, chief of homicide for the district attorney's office, said a decision will be made soon on whether to charge her.

"It has not yet been determined," Collins said. "But we're not finished."
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