RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) – A young man who nearly beheaded his stepfather with a samurai sword last year was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder after jurors rejected his claim that his mother committed the brutal slaying.

The verdict capped a trial that included lurid testimony from Zachary Gibian alleging that his stepfather had sexually abused him since age 15 and that his mother flew into a murderous rage after finding out. Gibian’s testimony contradicted the written and videotaped confessions that he made to police.

The jury, which deliberated over seven days, twice sent out notes that it was deadlocked this week before finally reaching a decision. The second note came just four hours before the guilty verdict in the Feb. 27, 2005, killing of Scott Nager, a retired New York City police officer slain as he slept on his living room couch.

Gibian, 20, closed his eyes and grimaced slightly as the guilty verdict was read. He then sat down at the defense table and began weeping uncontrollably. Nearby, Nager’s father and sister hugged as tears streamed down their faces.

“I didn’t win anything by him being convicted,” said Nathan Nager, 82, who treated Gibian as a grandson for years. “It’s an empty thing, because I still don’t have my son back. It’s a no-win situation for me.”

Gibian faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison at his Jan. 10 sentencing. Defense attorney William Keahon, who said jurors told him the panel was initially split 6-6, promised an appeal.

“They should have been dismissed as jurors,” Keahon said of the jurors’ first note indicating they were deadlocked. “There should have been a mistrial.”

Juror Gerard Whelan, who said he was the lone holdout for an acquittal, said he ultimately decided to vote for a conviction after watching Gibian’s videotaped confession for a fourth time on Wednesday; it was shown once during the trial, and the jury asked for it to be replayed three times during deliberations.

“The video was it,” he said. “It was so believable.”

Prosecutors contended that Nager, 51, was not a sexual predator but a concerned parent trying to rein in a rebellious teenager.

“He is the one who committed this murder,” Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti said of Gibian during closing arguments. “All the evidence points to it, all the witnesses point to it.”

Gibian, the lone defense witness, made stunning allegations that Nager had sexually and psychologically abused him for years. He claimed that numerous times, beginning when he was about 15, Nager would get drunk and repeatedly force his stepson to perform a sex act on him – sometimes with a pistol against the boy’s head.

He testified that his mother learned of the abuse the night before the killing, when she walked in on her husband and son in the boy’s bedroom. Gibian also said on cross-examination that there would be no forensic evidence of the attacks because his stepfather always used a condom.

Prudenti called Gibian’s allegations “preposterous.”

The key prosecution witness was Gibian’s friend Troy “T.J.” Harrelson, the son of former New York Mets star and manager Bud Harrelson. He testified that Gibian called him for a ride to ditch evidence from the slaying and admitted the slaying to him.

Harrelson cut a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty to hindering prosecution.

Gibian’s clothing, which was part of the dumped evidence, had no blood on it. The prosecution said that was because of the angle of the sword when Nager was fatally injured.

Gibian testified that after arriving at his Hauppauge home to discover his slain stepfather, he decided to dump the samurai sword and admit to the crime to protect his mother, Laura Nager.

His mother, through her attorney, has insisted she was not the killer. She did not attend a day of her son’s trial, and was never charged with any crime – although investigators plan to examine the case against her in the coming days, said John Collins, chief of the Suffolk County district attorney’s office homicide unit.

“We are not finished,” Collins said of the investigation.

Gibian said he gave written and videotaped confessions after detectives told him that he would likely serve a prison term of five to seven years if he admitted the killing and saved his mother from prosecution.

There is no evidence police made such a promise. In the confessions, Gibian said he killed his stepfather to end years of verbal abuse by the man.

AP-ES-12-13-06 1849EST


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