PAXTON — A former member of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school board was convicted Friday of aggravated domestic battery for choking a juvenile family member amid an argument last summer.
A Ford County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding 50-year-old James B. Zbinden, formerly of rural Gibson City, guilty of the Class 2 felony.
Zbinden, who served on the GCMS school board from 2009 to 2017, faces at least 60 days in the county jail, along with up to four years of probation or conditional discharge, when sentenced by Judge Matt Fitton at 2 p.m. May 28. Alternatively, Zbinden could be sentenced to up to three to seven years in prison.
During his three-day trial, the jury heard testimony that Zbinden choked a juvenile family member on June 3, 2018.
The boy testified that Zbinden, who had moved out of the family residence in rural Gibson City a year prior, arrived there that afternoon, accompanied by his girlfriend. An argument ensued over Zbinden’s intention to use a farm vehicle without leaving his personal vehicle behind.
During the argument, Zbinden grabbed the boy by the throat, choking him.
When the boy was released by Zbinden, the boy removed the keys from Zbinden’s vehicle and a chase ensued. The boy said he entered a garage in an attempt to flee, but Zbinden then tackled him and again grabbed him by the throat and choked him while punching him in the ribs.
Zbinden’s 22-year-old son, Ben, said that after he saw the incident in the garage, he intervened and struck his father. He and the victim then called 911.
Ford County sheriff’s deputy Jason Buckner said that when examining the victim at the scene, he noticed faint red marks on his neck. Buckner said the marks were consistent with injuries involving strangulation that he has seen in other cases during his 17-year law enforcement career.
Zbinden testified that he never choked or battered the juvenile, but instead was himself battered by his 22-year-old son. Zbinden was transported to Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City for treatment of injuries he sustained.
Zbinden’s girlfriend, Angela Jones, testified in Zbinden’s defense, but she admitted under cross examination by State’s Attorney Andrew Killian that she was not in a position to clearly witness either the first or second incidents.
Zbinden said he did not want to leave his personal vehicle behind that day because no one other than his girlfriend was authorized to drive it. Zbinden said the vehicle was provided to him by his employer.
However, under cross examination, Zbinden admitted that he had allowed both his wife and Ben Zbinden to drive the vehicle in the past.
Zbinden also admitted that pursuant to an agreement between himself and his wife in their divorce proceedings, he had previously left his personal vehicle whenever he used the farm vehicle. However, Zbinden said he no longer thought that agreement was still in effect.
Zbinden was represented by attorney Duane Deters from the Urbana law firm of Fischer & Wozniak P.C.
“This was obviously a very emotional case for everyone involved — parties, witnesses and the jury,” Killian said in a news release. “These types of cases are never easy for the victim, but he showed a lot of strength testifying about what happened to him.”