Death Watch: "No Need" for Mental Tests

James Bigby will be the fourth Texan executed in 2017


James Bigby, 61, is scheduled to be the fourth Texan executed this year when he goes to the Huntsville gurney on Tuesday, March 14. The Fort Worth native has spent the last 25 years on death row after a two-day killing spree that left four people dead.

The murders began on Dec. 23, 1987. Bigby was convinced that several of his acquaintances were conspiring against him when he arrived at his friend Mike Trekell's Fort Worth home for dinner. Trekell was cooking when Bigby shot him in the head, then drowned Trekell's 4-month-old son in the kitchen sink. He then moved on to the houses of two more friends – Calvin Crane and Frank "Bubba" Johnson – killing both. He was arrested at an Arlington hotel on Dec. 26.

Bigby confessed to the crimes when he was arrested and again later in a written statement. At his trial, during a recess, Bigby grabbed a gun from the bench, broke into chambers, and threatened his trial judge at gunpoint. Though he was disarmed before anything happened, the incident influenced the jury's decision in determining Bigby's future dangerousness; he was convicted of capital murder in March 1991, and sentenced to death.


James Bigby
The Fort Worth native has spent the last 25 years on death row after a two-day killing spree that left four people dead.

Prior to his killing spree, Bigby had a history of robberies and sexual assault, which prosecutors focused on during sentencing. His defense argued their client suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and that he was a product of a neglectful upbringing. (The defense also addressed Bigby's newfound reverence for religion.) Appeals have focused on the trial counsel's failure to address Bigby's family's history – a violation of Bigby's right to assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amend­ment. Court records indicate that Bigby's mother gave away each of his siblings to relatives, which caused him to fear he too would be abandoned. Bigby also detailed his unhealthy relationship with his mother – noting that she breastfed him until he was 7 – as well as her alcoholism, and her attempted suicide.

None of those hardships have done anything to sway any appeals court. Bigby has had no sustainable luck finding relief at the state or federal levels – however, in 2005, the district court wherein he filed his appeal vacated his death sentence after ruling that his trial jury was given inadequate instructions regarding death penalty sentencing, citing the 2001 case Penry v. Johnson. In 2006, he attended a second sentencing trial and was handed a second death sentence.

In March 2015, Bigby filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, though the effort was rejected by SCOTUS two months later. In September 2016, the state filed a motion to issue an execution date, but according to the order written by Tarrant County Judge Robb Cata­lano, Bigby's counsel requested additional time. Bigby "had been uncooperative and uncommunicative with him, such that he was unable to 'rationally evaluate' the Defend­ant's state of mind or mental ability," wrote Catalano. Bigby's attorney filed a report stating "no need" for a mental examination on Oct. 27, 2016 – Bigby "understands the reason for his execution." An execution warrant was signed a few days later.

If all goes the way the state intends, Bigby will be the second Tarrant County resident executed this year and 542nd in Texas since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

James Bigby, Death Watch, Mike Trekell, Robb Catalano

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