(UPDATED with full story) Girlfriend gets 8 years in prison

Cary Ashby • Jun 10, 2017 at 10:00 PM

One of the late Jeffrey P. Gibson’s loved ones held up a collage of framed photos while his older brother choked back tears.

Nearby at the defendant’s table, Tara L. Thacker, 35, of Willard, wiped tears from her face. Gibson’s friends and family did the same as his older brother, David Gibson, addressed Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway.

“I spent most of my life protecting my brothers and fighting their bullies,” the older brother said. “I didn’t know how important that responsibility would become.”

In late April, Thacker pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and a separate felony of credit card-related theft. Prosecutors dismissed a third charge of corrupting another with drugs during the April 25 plea hearing.

The involuntary manslaughter conviction was for Thacker’s involvement in the fentanyl-related Nov. 6 overdose death of Jeffrey Gibson, 41, of Lorain. She was sentenced to eight years in prison Wednesday morning. The victim’s brother had requested the judge help his family “fight this last bully” and give Thacker the maximum sentence — 11 years in prison.

“Where he (Gibson) was found was in a ditch close to the hospital,” Huron County Assistant Prosecutor Bambi Couch said.

Based on the victim’s “lack of impact injuries” and the autopsy report, she said it’s highly unlikely Gibson fell out of a truck — as Thacker had told hospital officials. Couch said the defendant took Gibson to Mercy Health-Willard Hospital once he stopped breathing, but he never arrived and Thacker told hospital workers she was a passerby who discovered the victim in the ditch.

“She was out for a little bit of fun and a little bit of fun killed Mr. Gibson,” the prosecutor added.

Huron County Public Defender David Longo said there’s no evidence that “Mr. Gibson didn’t inject himself.” Thacker’s attorney also said while his client attempted to deceive hospital workers by not giving them her name at first, she ultimately took responsibility by pleading guilty to “the more serious charge” — involuntary manslaughter.

“I believe her remorse is genuine. She loved Mr. Gibson,” Longo told the judge. “There was no intent to cause her boyfriend’s death.”

Thacker shared a similar perspective with the victim’s family.

“You don’t know how sorry I am,” she said as she faced Gibson’s loved ones. “I never meant to hurt Jeffrey. … I couldn’t tell him no to anything; I should have been stronger.

“He wanted us to have one last night. I tried to do it as responsibly as possible — if that’s even possible,” Thacker continued. “I never wanted any of this to happen.”

Couch told a different story, saying it’s clear to the state that Thacker “sought out” fentanyl — not heroin-laced fentanyl — and she “fully understood” its impact on the victim’s sobriety. Gibson had been through “detox” and sober for 60 days before his death.

‘Very happy’ being sober

Gibson’s mother, Glenna Hale, of Lorain, said her son “was very happy” about being clean, noting she doesn’t believe he was willing to play any games with his newfound sobriety.

“He had just turned 41. He lived at home,” she said before Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.

The mother shared what she knew about how her son knew Thacker.

“They met in 2012 and they became pretty good friends and had a relationship,” she said. “He didn’t have any drug addiction until he met Tara.”

Hale said since Thacker was homeless as of November, her son must have picked her up and they went to a hotel. She said her son was “alive and well” the morning he checked out, but she has no idea what happened afterward.

‘Endless battle’ fighting addiction

Gibson’s brother shared with the court a story in which his family fought “an endless battle” against Gibson’s drug addiction and how he became a “functioning addict.” He wiped tears from his face as he said his younger brother spent three weeks battling for his sobriety before he died.

“The biggest mistake in her life was her,” David Gibson said, referring to Thacker. “Enough is enough. There must be consequences for this predatory behavior. … You preyed on his vulnerability.”

Conway, before announcing Thacker’s sentence, thanked Gibson for the powerful message he shared and encouraged him to tell it to other people. 

Thacker received credit for serving 213 days in the Huron County Jail toward her eight-year prison sentence. She also had a six-month term imposed for the separate theft conviction, which will be served at the same time.

She must reimburse the victim’s mother almost $6,172 for medical and funeral expenses and the two theft victims about $400 total.

“Tara did love Jeffrey very much,” her mother, Andrea, said after the hearing. “She would have traded places with him if she could.”

Also, Thacker’s mother said she hopes her daughter eventually “will get another chance” and send out the appropriate message about addiction once she is out of prison. 

Thacker can request early release after serving five years. She will be on five years of mandatory parole.

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