Five Youths Held in $500 Robbery of Neighbors : Slaying of Trusting Old Couple a Puzzle

Associated Press

Alton Smith, 14, and John Morris, 15, often ran errands for their elderly neighbors, Sarah and Boykin Gibson.

So when Morris picked up some Dristan for the Gibsons last Jan. 15, they didn't hesitate to let him in. Smith and three others rushed in behind him, authorities said.

While Morris helped ransack the second floor, Smith sat on the stairs and watched one of his friends slash the Gibsons' throats, police said.

When officers arrested Smith at his home late that night, the eighth-grader reportedly had already spent his share of the more than $500 that police say the youths stole. Smith said he bought presents for his mother.

The five youths are in custody, awaiting a trial that attorneys say is probably five months away.

Meanwhile, area residents seek to understand what prompted the killings of the Gibsons--she 84, he 88--and why Smith and Morris allegedly joined in robbing a couple who knew and trusted them.

'Acting Out Some Scenario'

"There's no question in my mind that they were acting out some scenario they had seen . . . on television or the movies," Harvey Adams, president of Pittsburgh's chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said of the youths, who are from the mostly black Homewood neighborhood where the Gibsons lived.

"Right now, I don't think there's anyone in Pittsburgh who would be sad if these kids were strung up," said Diane Quinlan, Smith's court-appointed attorney.

In addition to Smith and Morris, charged with first-degree murder are:

--Christopher Caldwell, 18, a high-school dropout police say has confessed to the killings.

--Eric Anderson, 19, a dropout who earned a general equivalency diploma.

--Alan Williams, 21, also a dropout, who police say spent seven months in prison for using a knife during a 1983 burglary.

"Alton was nice, but he's one of those kids who wanted to belong, to be somebody," said Angelia Leve, 18, who lives next door to the Gibsons. "He was a follower."

At a recent coroner's hearing, police reconstructed the killings based on statements by Smith, Caldwell, Anderson and Williams.

The three older youths planned the robbery, then brought Smith and Morris into the scheme the day before the slayings, police said. Smith told officers that the others made no mention of killing the couple.

On Jan. 15, Morris went into the Gibsons' home and came out in a few minutes to tell his friends that "the old lady wanted Dristan and he was going to the store and the front door was unlocked," Detective Ronald Freeman said.

When Morris returned, the others followed him into the house.

Anderson, Morris and Smith went upstairs while Williams and Caldwell ransacked the first floor. When they were finished, Caldwell killed the elderly couple.

It all took less than half an hour.

In spite of the gruesome nature of the crime, the attorneys insist that their clients are not hardened criminals.

"He's a follower and he's very scared," Leo Harper said of his client, Anderson. "I tried to explain to him that it's very likely he'll spend the rest of his life in an institution. His reaction is . . . 'Can't I get probation?' "

The confessions given by all except Morris make it virtually certain that the defendants will serve prison terms, several of their attorneys said.

"Somewhere along the line there had to be some indication of some sort that these youngsters were asking for help," said Donus Crawford, principal of Westinghouse High School in Homewood. "I'm just sorry someone didn't listen."

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