published Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

LIVE UPDATES: Man on trial after Chattanooga woman killed, head and hands cut off

Todd South updates

Opening statements in a grisly murder trial are set to begin this morning after an all-day jury selection on Monday.

The sequestered 14 jurors will hear and see details of a macabre Chattanooga murder in which the victim was decapitated, her hands and part of her forearm severed and left lying near a local creek bed near 3700 Youngstown Road.

Tony Bigoms, 54, faces charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the November 2012 slaying of Dana Wilkes, 48.

Prosecutors Lance Pope and Cameron Williams face Assistant District Public Defenders Steve Brown and Jane Buffaloe in a case that Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman told the jury will extend into the weekend and likely next week.

Wilkes had been missing since Nov. 10, 2012, when she failed to show up for work at Dialysis Clinic Inc. on East Third Street. Her Jeep Cherokee was found on Wilcox Boulevard with a blood spatter in it shortly afterward.

It was more than two weeks later when duck hunters discovered her mutilated corpse on Nov. 25, 2012.

Her head and hands have not been found.

Bigoms told police he'd ridden with Wilkes in her car. He said she'd given him a ride to some stores and then dropped him at the Family Dollar Store on Brainerd Road.

Investigators found Bigoms' DNA on cigarette butts in Wilkes' car.

A girlfriend of Bigoms told police she saw him bleaching a pair of his shoes at around the time Wilkes went missing.

Investigators could not link blood, hair or fibers to Bigoms, which one of his two assistant district public defenders used in arguments last year to get his bond lowered from $250,000 to $40,000.

  • photo
    Tony Bigoms, 54, left, talks with public defender Steve Brown during jury selection for Bigoms’s first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse trial in the November 2012 slaying of Dana Wilkes.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Despite the lower bond, Bigoms is in custody during this trial.

Wilkes' husband, Tom Wilkes, was in jail on a driving charge at the time of his wife's death. In a jailhouse interview after her death, he told the Times Free Press that he'd been friends with Bigoms for 20 years but he believed the man had something to do with his wife's death.

"I'm thinking he probably tricked her or some kind of way got her to come out because she trusted him," Tom Wilkes said.

Tom Wilkes died Jan. 27, 2013 at his home, after Bigoms had been indicted.

Bigoms stood trial in 2006 on charges he kidnapped, raped and murdered Dinah Burney. His DNA was found in Burney's mouth, beneath her fingernails and on a sock tied around her neck. Her hands were bound behind her back with wire.

Burney's body was found with a sock tied around her throat alongside Caine Lane on Feb. 17, 2002.

A jury acquitted Bigoms on those charges.

A year later, in 2007, he was convicted of sexual battery in a separate case and sentenced to eight years. In that case he held a knife to a woman's throat and forced her to perform oral sex on him, court records show. He thought he heard someone outside the house, was distracted and the woman escaped.

No reports so far released show any indication of sexual assault to Dana Wilkes.

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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