THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS
Ken Paxton

MEDIA ADVISORY: James Eugene Bigby Scheduled for Execution

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – Austin

Pursuant to a court order by Criminal District Court No. 3 of Tarrant County, James Eugene Bigby is scheduled for execution after 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.

In 1991, Bigby was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering Michael Trekell and his infant son Jayson Kehler. In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit overturned Bigby’s original death sentence, necessitating a retrial on punishment. Bigby was sentenced to death for a second time in 2006. Below is a summary of the evidence.

FACTS OF THE CASE

In its opinion denying Bigby’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus following the punishment retrial, the federal district court summarized the facts of the offense as follows:

In late 1987, Bigby killed three friends (plus the infant son of one of them) because he believed they were conspiring with Frito–Lay to avoid paying him a workers’ compensation claim.

On the evening of December 23, 1987, Bigby went to the home of his friend, Michael Trekell, and brought two steaks for dinner. While Trekell was preparing the steaks, Bigby shot and killed him, and then drowned Trekell’s sixteen-week-old son, Jayson Kehler. Bigby then drove across town to the apartment of another friend, Wesley Crane. After visiting with Crane for a while, Bigby asked Crane to drive him to the store in Crane’s truck. During the drive home, Bigby forced Crane to pull over and get out of the truck at gunpoint. He shot Crane in the head, killing him, and left his body in the road. Bigby returned to Crane’s apartment complex, retrieved a bag from his car containing a pistol and a shotgun, and drove away in Crane’s truck. About 3:20 a.m. on December 24th, Bigby arrived at the home of his friend, Frank “Bubba” Johnson, and rang the doorbell. Johnson answered the door and, after a short discussion, Bigby shot him three times with the shotgun, killing him. He then fled in the truck.

A massive manhunt ensued, and Bigby surrendered to police on December 26, 1987, after a stand-off at a local motel. During the stand-off, a police negotiator told Bigby, “You’re an American. You’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. Everything is going to be all right.” Bigby replied, “I’m guilty. I know it and so do you.” Bigby later confessed to the murders in writing. A fingerprint found on a wine cooler bottle at the Trekell home matched Bigby’s left middle finger. A firearms expert testified that a bullet fragment recovered from the Trekell crime scene had been fired from a .357 revolver found in Bigby’s motel room.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In March 1991, a Tarrant County jury convicted Bigby of capital murder. After a separate punishment proceeding, Bigby was sentenced to death.

On November 2, 1994, Bigby’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal.

The Supreme Court denied review of Bigby’s direct appeal proceeding on June 26, 1995.

Bigby’s application for state habeas corpus relief was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals on February 4, 1998.

Bigby’s initial federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, on October 18, 1999.

On March 8, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit vacated Bigby’s death sentence due to jury-charge error.

The Supreme Court denied certiorari review of the 5th Circuit’s decision on October 3, 2005.

In September 2006, a new sentencing trial was held, and Bigby was again sentenced to death.

On October 8, 2008, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Bigby’s second death sentence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals denied Bigby’s state habeas application challenging his second death sentence on December 17, 2008.

The Supreme Court denied certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals’s decision on direct appeal on April 20, 2009.

The federal district court denied Bigby’s federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his second death sentence on April 5, 2013.

The 5th Circuit denied any certificate of appealability and affirmed the federal district court’s decision on December 18, 2014.

On May 26, 2015, the Supreme Court denied Bigby’s petition for certiorari review.

On November 1, 2016, the state trial court issued an order setting Bigby’s execution date for March 14, 2017.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

The federal district court made note of the State’s evidence presented at the punishment retrial:

The State presented evidence that Bigby had been incarcerated for burglary in 1977 and for burglary of a motor vehicle in 1983. The judge and several other persons connected to Bigby’s 1991 trial testified about Bigby’s attempt to kidnap the trial judge during that first trial. According to the testimony, Bigby had seized a loaded revolver from the judge’s bench, walked into chambers, pointed the gun at the judge’s head, and said, “Let’s go, Judge.” The judge immediately grabbed Bigby’s hand and, with the prosecutor’s assistance, wrestled Bigby to the ground. Two bailiffs entered the chambers and removed the revolver from Bigby’s hand.

 The State also presented evidence of Bigby’s extraneous, unadjudicated offenses: car theft, burglary, sale and use of methamphetamine, identity theft, credit card fraud, check fraud, other scams involving stolen rental property, and a sexual assault of a five year-old girl when he was a teenager. As an adult, Bigby regularly recruited younger men to help him steal cars and engage in other scams, several of whom testified for the State. One witness described Bigby as a full-time thief. A man who had known Bigby all of his life testified that Bigby’s workers’ compensation claim was also fraudulent.

There was testimony that people were concerned about getting on Bigby’s bad side. Bigby once asked a friend to buy him a gun so he could kill his unfaithful girlfriend and a bunch of other people. In 1986, Bigby had threatened to kill Frank “Bubba” Johnson and take half the Fort Worth Police Department with him. Bigby’s attitude was that he would never to be taken alive and would never go back to prison.

Meredith Perry knew Bigby in the 1980s, and she testified, among other things, that Bigby once removed the wing nuts on his mother’s crutches, causing them to collapse. Perry said Bigby also cashed his mother’s disability check and stole Perry’s prescription pain medicine to resell on the street. Bigby’s ex-wife testified that Bigby could pick locks and would enter her apartment when she was not home. She moved to a women’s shelter after Bigby had attacked her multiple times. During their separation, Bigby broke into her apartment and drilled holes in her bathroom ceiling so he could spy on her from the attic. Another female acquaintance testified that Bigby would break into her apartment as well, and when she confronted Bigby, he grabbed her by the throat, shoved her, and told her he comes and goes as he pleases.

MISCELLANEOUS

For additional information and statistics, please access the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.