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Archive 2006: James Bigby returns to Death Row

James Eugene Bigby is returning to his home of nearly 15 years: Death Row.

A Tarrant County jury of six men and six women sentenced Bigby to death Tuesday afternoon for the 1987 murders of Mike Trekell and his infant son, Jayson, a year after an appellate court overturned his 1991 death sentence.

Minutes after the sentence was read, Trekell's sister, Deborah Jameson, fought back tears as she read a victim-impact statement to Bigby. She promised Bigby that "God's will" would be done to him.

"Now keep this in your mind, this court is the authority," she read. "May you stop these appeals. May you stop this begging and heed the punishment delivered."

Bigby, now 51, was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting Trekell, who was cooking steaks for himself and Bigby, and drowning 4-month-old Jayson in a bathroom sink.

That jury convicted Bigby just hours after he grabbed a loaded gun from a drawer in state District Judge Don Leonard's bench, charged into Leonard's chambers and pointed the gun at him. Leonard, a prosecutor and a bailiff eventually wrestled the gun away from Bigby.

The former Kennedale auto mechanic appealed the decision. Defense attorneys had put on witnesses who testified that Bigby was a paranoid schizophrenic.

But the jury rejected Bigby's insanity defense.

Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bigby's conviction but overturned his sentence, saying it violated a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juries should consider mitigating factors, such as mental illness, when deciding whether a defendant should die. The court said that paranoid schizophrenia is a severe mental illness, and that Bigby had proved he had the illness at the time of the crimes.

Bigby is also accused of killing Frank Johnson, 33, of Arlington and Calvin Crane Jr., 38, of Fort Worth shortly after killing Trekell and Jayson. Those cases are pending.

On Tuesday, a jury deliberated for about four hours before handing down the death sentence. Bigby's attorney, Wes Ball, said Tuesday that an appeal is automatic.

Crane's only son, Kevin, who was 16 when his father was killed, also addressed Bigby on Tuesday. Kevin Crane testified during the trial that the stress from his father's death gave him abnormally high blood pressure. He said he's on the list to receive a new heart and lungs.

"There is no guarantee I'll survive, but I hope I live long enough to see that justice for my father will be served," Kevin Crane said after the jury was dismissed. "Both Bigby juries were fair. My father did not have a judge and jury the night [ Bigby] took him from us."

During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Bigby needs to die because he is a ruthless yet cowardly killer.

"He's a back stabber," said Assistant District Attorney Charles Mallin. "He kills them when they're not looking."

Ball didn't dispute Bigby's actions but said that his client was treated three times for mental disorders before the killings.

"We read the newspaper where people will kill people to steal wallets or kill to sexual assault someone or kill because they are enraged," he said. "That's not what we have here. It makes no sense. There was no rationale other than he had a mental illness."

Bigby's attorneys contend that he shouldn't be executed because his paranoid schizophrenia and frustrations about a workers compensation claim led to the killing spree.

Prosecutors said drug use and his aggressive personality led to the killings.

"He made the choice to do the drugs," Mallin said. "Evidence clearly showed that the use of methamphetamines aggravated his behavior."

Nathaniel Jones, 817-548-5414 njones@star-telegram.com

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