The father of a slain former MOVE member filed a wrongful-death suit yesterday in Burlington County against his son's as-yet-unknown killer.
Jack Gilbride of Virginia made the civil filing in state Superior Court to meet a two-year deadline after John Gilbride Jr.'s highly publicized death.
John Gilbride, 34, a baggage handler for U.S. Airways, was found after midnight Sept. 27, 2002, slumped over in his car with the engine running. Gilbride had been shot in front of his Maple Shade apartment hours before an unsupervised visit with the son he had with Alberta Africa, MOVE's matriarch and the former wife of founder John Africa.
Gilbride became involved with MOVE as a Temple University student and married Africa in 1992. He left the group six years later and filed for divorce. He sought custody of their son, now 7.
Court papers indicate he had a subsequent wife, whose location is unknown.
The civil suit seeks unspecified damages naming John Does or Jane Does in an effort to cover any possible assailants should charges be brought against one or more people. The suit would allow the father to pursue a case beyond the two-year statute of limitations.
"The problem, of course, is that we don't have a defendant," said Marcel Groen, an attorney on the case. What the civil suit "does is preserve Mr. Gilbride's rights."
Reached at home, Jack Gilbride declined to comment.
The lawsuit and a separate court matter last week that related to the slaying have touched a nerve with MOVE, the radical antiestablishment group that had bloody confrontations with Philadelphia police in the 1970s and 1980s.
During a hearing Friday, Jack Gilbride filed court papers that included a part naming Alberta Africa as a suspect in the crime - an allegation Africa vehemently denied yesterday.
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office distanced itself from naming any suspect. "It's an ongoing murder investigation, and we decline to comment," spokesman Jack Smith said.
Africa, who lives in Cherry Hill, is trying to have her name stricken from the court record as a suspect. "MOVE is having a hard time having people look at reality as opposed to supposition," she said.
At a news conference later at their home in West Philadelphia, MOVE members characterized the Friday filing as an extension of efforts to remove Africa's son from her care.
Ramona Africa also wondered about the identity and even the existence of "this mysterious woman" whom John Gilbride married in the spring of 2002. She said reporters had not pursued those matters.