A Chattanooga man was sentenced to life in prison when the jury found him guilty after his six-day murder retrial. Following closing arguments, the jury was sent back to a secluded room, where they came to a guilty verdict for the defendant.
Tony Edward Bigoms murdered Dana Wilkes in 2012 and dismembered her corpse, which was found on the banks of the Chicamauga river without a head or hands. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014, but was granted a retrial after the court of appeals found issues with the sequestration of the jury and details included in testimony.
Monday saw another witness testify, this time in defense of the accused. The witness was a former Chattanooga State classmate of Bigoms, who Dana Wilkes called to sell drugs to. After him were a few more experts.
One was a forensic anthropologist, who examined Wilkes’ skeleton after her body was found. He said a saw was used to separate the limbs from her body, and that she was already deceased when this decapitation was occurring.
After a lunch break and lengthy instructions for the jury, both sides made their closing arguments. The prosecution got the first word in, reiterating many facts of the case. Prosecutor Andrew Coyle focused on Bigoms’ behavior following Ms. Wilkes’ disappearance.
Mr. Coyle told the jury of the defendant’s ever-changing story, where he initially said he saw Wilkes’ in passing at Wal Mart when first questioned by police. As time went on, Bigoms told the officers he actually went shopping with Ms. Wilkes. And according to other interviews, his story would change depending on what witness he was speaking to.
“His lies in this case are incredible,” said the prosecutor, “Tony Bigoms is a gifted liar, and he will lie to anyone.”
Mr. Coyle continued by then turning his eye to Bigoms’ actual actions after her disappearance. According to previous testimony, Bigoms was infatuated with the victim, even going as far as “propositioning” to Ms Wilkes when her husband was in jail. Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 9, he called her over a dozen times, and they had multiple long-discussions according to phone records. Yet after her disappearance, he did not call her once.
“He’s not doing anything,” said Mr. Coyle of Bigoms’ inactivity when Ms. Wilkes was missing, “(This is) the person who was supposed to take care of her.”
The prosecution also spoke of the lack of DNA in Bigoms’ own car, the bleached shoes and Bigoms’ DNA found on Wilkes’ own bra.
The defense addressed these points by calling them coincidences and a prosecution jumping to wild conclusions. The defense attorney focused on the friendship between Bigoms and Wilkes, and how the defendant was allegedly at home when the murder occurred. They turned the jury’s focus toward a different witness.
“The last person to talk to Dana Wilkes wasn’t Tony Bigoms,” said the defense attorney, “It was Lawan Fortson, who told her to meet him by the tunnels.”
According to the defense, the process was unfair to Bigoms. The defendant was the only suspect in the case, and the defense alleged Fortson should have been the main focus of the investigation.
“It’s just common sense that there’s no reason for Tony to commit this offense,” said the defense attorney, “they’re friends. Tony was concerned when Dana went missing. Tony knew he was a suspect, but he didn’t run. He stayed in Chattanooga, and continued to take classes at Chattanooga State. This is not the actions of a guilty man.”
On the other side, the prosecution pleaded with the jury to find Bigoms guilty of murder.
“It’s clear that he did it. It’s clear that Tony Bigoms killed Dana Wilkes,” said the prosecutor, “I can’t imagine what she went through on that night at his hands. The evidence and the law demand you find him guilty. Give Dana justice, and find him guilty.”
After a few hours of deliberation, the jury of twelve found Tony Bigoms guilty of premeditated first degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Judge Barry Steelman then sentenced Tony Bigoms to prison for life for murder after reading the verdict. The sentence for abuse of a corpse will be decided on Dec. 2.