Tony Bigoms doesn't think he was given a fair shake.
Bigoms was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of murder last April. Prosecutors said he killed Chattanooga dialysis worker Dana Wilkes, 48, who knew Bigoms through her husband, then sawed off her head and hands. He was also convicted of abuse of a corpse.
On Tuesday, Bigoms' attorney Jay Underwood argued that Bigoms should get another shot at a murder trial.
Underwood told Judge Barry Steelman that during the 2014 trial, sequestered jurors were allowed to be separated from one another while making phone calls to their families. If jurors are separated during sequestration, Underwood said, the state must prove that they weren't unduly influenced with outside knowledge of the case, something that's prohibited for any jury.
Underwood also argued they were separated between the time they were selected as jurors and sent home to retrieve belongings and returning to a local hotel. Underwood said this could have been avoided if the entire jury pool was told to bring a suitcase of clothes to jury selection.
"We'd have to send out a search party for potential jurors," Steelman said. He added that he understood Underwood's point.
Since the trial lasted almost a week and the jurors were confined to hotel rooms, their families were allowed to visit on the Sunday before a verdict was rendered. Underwood said that also presented a separation and may have allowed outside influence from family members.
Underwood called court officers Tim Higgs and Jim Pickett, who supervised jurors during the Bigoms trial, to the stand.
Higgs described Steelman's admonishment to the jurors and their visiting families that they were not to discuss the case during the family visit. He also described allowing the jurors to make phone calls from cellphones, but said he held those phones throughout the sequestration and even dialed the numbers for them when they asked to make a call.
Pickett said they closely monitored the jurors during the trial.
"Anything that has anything to do with law or courtroom, we don't let them talk about it," Pickett said.
Assistant District Attorney General Lance Pope, who tried Bigoms in the 2014 case, said he had proven that the jury didn't learn anything prejudicial from outside sources.
"Jury in the present case was well aware that this was something they were to stay away from," Pope said.
Underwood argued several other points, including that Bigoms' phone was unlawfully searched and that information about a prior murder acquittal was improperly introduced at trial. Bigoms' record after that case was expunged, and no information about the prior case should have even been available, Underwood said. Instead, he said, it was introduced and unfairly prejudiced the jury.
Finally, he argued that because it was never proven where Wilkes was killed, prosecutors didn't prove venue.
Pope requested that a list of the jury's family members who visited be provided to both sides, and Steelman scheduled a new appearance for Bigoms in June. Steelman likely will decide on that date whether to grant Bigoms a new trial.
Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.