After a lengthy jury selection, a once-convicted Chattanoogan’s retrial officially got underway in Judge Barry Steelman’s court. Tony Bigoms is on trial for the murder and gruesome decapitation of Dana Wilkes in 2012, of which he was convicted of five years prior.
While Bigoms was found guilty in both state and federal courts, and is currently serving a life sentence for these convictions, the defendant appealed both decisions. After the court of appeals found several instances of improper conduct among the jurors and in the testimony of one of the witnesses, a mistrial was called.
Now back in court as an innocent man, Bigoms’ new trial began before a properly sequestered jury. Before calling the first witness, prosecuting attorney Andrew Coyle gave a brief recap of what the state believed occurred, and then made a plea to the jury.
“This case is big, but what I’d ask for you to do is to pay attention to what he’s not doing, and what ties him to every scene,” said the prosecutor, “There will be no question as to who killed her and dumped her body in a creek. (That person is) Tony Bigoms.”
Bigoms’ attorney had a much different message for the jury, even though the language used seemed similar upon first listen.
“Listen to what they say, but also what you don’t hear. You won’t hear why it happens,” said the defense attorney, “The state won’t answer that. You’ll have questions, and there are no answers, because Tony Bigoms did not do it.”
In November 2012, Tony Bigoms allegedly went shopping with Ms. Wilkes, and they ended their trip at a Mapco gas station in her green Jeep. He then allegedly killed her, and sawed off her head and arms. Bigoms then took her body to a creek, where he dumped it on the bank by the road.
The first witness was Norfolk Southern employee and duck hunting enthusiast Jeremy Pruitt, who discovered Ms. Wilkes’ body during his expedition in Chicamauga Creek. The men were in their boat during the morning hours when they saw Wilkes’ body by the creek.
“It looked like some Halloween decorations,” said Mr. Pruitt, “But I said to pull over (anyway), and I found out it wasn’t. It was a headless woman with black tennis shoes and not much else.”
Mr. Pruitt soon called the police, and officer Eric Hindman responded, who told the court about what he saw when he got to the scene and encountered Ms. Wilkes’ corpse.
“I remember seeing a torso. The body had been there for a while, and animals and insects may have been at the scene too,” said the former Chattanooga police officer, “I notified my supervisor, detectives, and began roping off the area to preserve the crime scene.”
While he did find Ms. Wilkes’ bra discarded on the road beside and above the steep hill beside the creek, Mr. Hindman did not collect any of the evidence. As he made clear to the court and jury, it was not his job to collect evidence.
Dr. James Metcalf, the chief medical examiner and forensic medical pathologist at the police department, performed the autopsy on her corpse, or at least what was left of it by the time humanity found it.
“Looking at the body, most of the soft tissue of the arms and chest were decomposing,” said the doctor. “There was loss of soft tissue where animals and insects have torn away at the soft tissue.”
The highly-decomposed state of the body presented several challenges for the doctor. For instance, it was difficult to discern if there were any bruising on the body, and it was a challenge to do a toxicology report.
“Typically, it’s a blood sample, but there was no liquid blood left,” said the doctor, who used a sample of flesh in lieu of a blood sample. They found a safe dose of methadone in her system, and a small amount of alcohol in her system.
After the autopsy, it was determined the body was Ms. Wilkes’ who had been missing for several weeks by this point.
A series of coworkers and bosses from Ms. Wilkes’ workplace at the Dialysis Clinic also vouched for her good character, and described the shock they felt when the normally punctual woman did not show up to work the next day. Her supervisor called around each hospital and family members in order to find her, but to no avail.
One of her coworkers, Zeddie Pryor, happened to be off that day. On her way to a store, she noticed Ms. Wilkes’ recognizable green Jeep parked on the side of Wilcox Road. She let people know, and word eventually traveled back to Ms. Wilkes’ son Robert.
After getting the news that his mother hadn’t come into work, he spent the better part of his day attempting to locate her by calling every person who could know his mother. He also went by her apartment, and found the door unlocked and the toilet still running, but his mother nowhere to be found.
When Robert heard about the location of the Jeep that evening, he immediately headed over there. He found his mother’s vehicle parked at the location, empty and with one gory feature inside.
“I looked over in the passenger side, and on the glove box I saw the blood,” said Ms. Wilkes’ son, “It looked like it had been dripping, and had just dried like that.”
After seeing this, he called the police, and were soon accompanied by several officers, including detective Reginald Parks. Detective Parks inspected the area, but found no clues as to Ms. Wilkes whereabouts. After he and the son spoke with several of Ms. Wilkes’ neighbors, the detective was pointed in the direction of Tony Bigoms.
According to Bigoms’ recorded interview with the police, he admitted to knowing Wilkes very well. In fact, he described the relationship between he and her husband as “like cousins.” On the last night Ms. Wilkes was seen, he said she drove him to Wal-Mart to find parts to fix the toilet in her apartment. She then did some grocery shopping, went to a Murphy’s gas station, and drove him back home.
He mentioned Ms. Wilkes said something about meeting someone to sell some pills. Her husband, Tom, was in jail, so it fell upon her to sell the drugs.
The trial will continue Thursday morning.