published Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Testimony ends in Bigoms murder trial

  • photo
    Tony Bigoms, 54, right, is led into the courtroom during jury selection for his first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse trial in the November 2012 slaying of Dana Wilkes in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom at the city-county courts building on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

And on the fifth day, they rested.

Attorneys for both sides in the murder trial of Tony Bigoms completed their portions of the case Saturday afternoon. The sequestered jury will get today off before hearing closing arguments Monday and then beginning deliberations.

Most of Saturday's work revolved around whether Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman would allow prosecutors to reference, somewhat vaguely, the 2006 trial in which a jury acquitted Bigoms of kidnapping, rape and murder charges.

The question, the answer and the defense response were all difficult.

In Bigoms' cellphone, the number for the victim in this trial, Dana Wilkes, was labeled with the name Dinae.

Dinae.

The victim in the 2006 murder trial was a woman named Dinah Burney.

One letter different.

Until Saturday there was to be no reference, in any form, to the previous, unrelated trial.

But prosecutors Lance Pope and Cameron Williams found a limited way.

Burney's body was found off Caine Avenue in 2002. Testing results showed Bigoms' DNA in her mouth, under her fingernails and on the sock used to strangle her.

When Wilkes' body was found in November 2012, Bigoms' DNA was found on a cigarette butt in her green Jeep Grand Cherokee and mixed with blood on her her pink bra, discarded near where the body was dumped alongside South Chickamauga Creek in the 3700 block of Youngstown Road.

Wilkes' head and hands had been cut off, likely with a manual saw. They have not been found.

Pope argued that the name label in Bigoms' phone, coupled with his knowledge from the previous trial that DNA could be recovered from a mouth and beneath fingernails, triggered an opportunity to put those facts before the jury.

Bigoms' attorneys, Assistant District Public Defenders Steve Brown and Jane Buffaloe, strongly opposed the request.

"I think the court is opening a Pandora's box here," Brown told Steelman.

Brown said the decision was plain error, a legal term describing decisions that can be reviewed and possibly overturned by an appellate court.

"Well, it won't be until the appellate court rules it is," Steelman replied, and allowed the prosecutors to proceed.

But the information was tricky. Pope called a TBI forensic scientist from the agency's Nashville lab to testify that he had collected samples in the 2006 case.

Through that witness, he was able to show the jury that Bigoms was in court when a case involving DNA evidence collected from a woman's mouth and fingernails made a positive identification.

Not that Bigoms was the defendant in the previous trial. Not that the woman was a murder victim. Not that the DNA was Bigoms'.

Jurors are not supposed to research a case outside of court. This sequestered jury is prohibited access to television, newspapers and all electronic devices while they stay in a local hotel under the supervision of Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies.

Until they render a verdict and the trial ends, none of the jurors should know more than what they've been told in court.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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