published Friday, April 11th, 2014

LIVE UPDATES: Chattanooga murder trial testimony details body damage

Defendant Tony Bigoms listens Wednesday during the first day of testimony in his murder trial in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom. Bigoms is accused in the 2012 slaying of Dana Wilkes.
Defendant Tony Bigoms listens Wednesday during the first day of testimony in his murder trial in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom. Bigoms is accused in the 2012 slaying of Dana Wilkes.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Todd South updates

Days after Dana Wilkes went missing in November 2012, police interrogated Tony Bigoms, the last person known to see her alive.

"We're going to find Dana and when we do and if she's dead ... what is her body going to tell us?" asked Jay Evan Montgomery, lead investigator for the Chattanooga Police Department.

Bigoms, 54, admitted at the time he'd been with Wilkes the night she disappeared. He said he had nothing to do with it.

"Did you kill Dana?" Montgomery asked, later in the interrogation.

"No," Bigoms answered, immediately asking for a cigarette.

During the third day of Bigoms' murder trial Wednesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court, Wilkes' body, the damage done to it and questions about how and where the 48-year-old woman died lingered.

Forensic anthropologist Murray Marks from the Knox County Medical Examiner's Office testified that someone had started sawing Wilkes' forearms while she was face down.

The saw starts showed clean cuts in the bone, to a point.

Like a tree limb, Marks said, the cutting would cause pressure and snap the bone on the other side.

But Marks said there was no way to tell if the body's head and hands were removed before or after Wilkes died.

For most of the day Montgomery testified, detailing interrogations, searches and evidence gathered that lead to the Jan. 16, 2013 arrest of Bigoms, nearly two months after duck hunters found Wilkes' body off 3700 Youngstown Road on Nov. 25, 2012.

Assistant District Public Defender Steve Brown challenged parts of the investigation.

"You can't say with any degree of certainty where Dana Wilkes was murdered, you cannot say if it was in Hamilton County or even if it was in the state of Tennessee, correct?" Brown asked, the volume of his voice rising.

"No, sir," Montgomery replied.

Mary Morris, Bigom's ex-girlfriend, testified Thursday that near the time Wilkes went missing Bigoms soaked his gray tennis shoes in bleach.

Bigoms faces charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in Wilkes' death. He was acquitted in 2006 of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Dinah Burney.

Burney's body was found in 2002, dumped off Caine Avenue with Bigoms' DNA in her mouth, under her fingernails and on the sock tied around her neck that was used to strangle her to death.

Bigoms was convicted in 2007 of a separate attempted aggravated sexual battery incident in which he'd held a knife to a woman's throat and demanded oral sex. She said he heard something outside the house and she was able to escape.

Information about his past charges and convictions will not be allowed in this trial.

The jury has been sequestered. The trial will resume this morning and is planned to be held on Saturday.

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