Texas Execution Information Center

Execution Report: James Bigby

James Bigby
James Bigby
Executed on 14 March 2017

James Eugene Bigby, 61, was executed by lethal injection on 14 March 2017 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a man and an infant in their home.

On the evening of Wednesday, 23 December 1987, Bigby, then 32, went to the trailer home in Arlington where his friend, Michael Trekell, lived with Grace Kehler and Kehler's 17-week-old son, Jayson.* Kehler was at work. Bigby brought two steaks with him for dinner. While Trekell was preparing the steaks, Bigby shot him from behind and killed him. He then took some cellophane wrap and went into the baby's room. He placed the cellophane over the baby's mouth to suffocate him, then filled a bathroom sink with water and put him in it face down.

Next, Trekell drove across town to the Fort Worth apartment of another friend, Wesley Crane. After visiting with Crane for a while, Bigby asked him to drive him to the store. On the drive home, Bigby forced Crane at gunpoint to pull over and get out of the truck. He shot Crane in the head, killing him, and left his body in the road. He drove Crane's truck back to Crane's apartment, retrieved a bag from his car containing a pistol and a shotgun, and drove away in Crane's truck.

At about 3:20 a.m., Bigby arrived at the Arlington home of another friend, Frank "Bubba" Johnson, and rang the doorbell. Johnson answered the door and, after a short discussion, Bigby shot him three times with the shotgun, killing him. He then fled in the truck.

The four victims were killed during a span of about seven hours.

Kehler returned from work early in the morning of 24 December. She found Trekell's body on the kitchen floor and called 9-1-1, thinking he was unconscious. During the call, she looked for Jayson and found him dead, laying face down in a sink full of water.

Arlington Police Officer James Greenwell arrived at approximately 5:10 a.m. to investigate the scene. He collected some beer cans and a wine cooler bottle from the trash to be checked for fingerprints. Kehler noted that there were three streaks on the table that were not there when she left for work. When questioned about possible suspects, Kehler implicated Bigby, Trekell's friend who visited the trailer frequently.

Tarrant County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Harvey determined that Trekell died from a gunshot wound to the head from a .357 Magnum revolver.** He determined that Jayson was deliberately drowned.

Bigby was arrested by Fort Worth police at a motel on 26 December. During a SWAT standoff, he threatened to commit suicide and also said he wanted to "go out in a blaze of glory." A police negotiator told him, "You're an American. You're presumed innocent until proven guilty. Everything is going to be alright." Bigby replied. "I'm guilty. I know it and so do you." He then surrendered.

Bigby later gave a written statement in which he confessed to killing Trekell, Jayson, Crane, and Johnson. Fingerprints from the bottle recovered at the trailer were matched to him.

"I regret killing the baby, but not the other," he said.

Bigby had previously worked for Frito-Lay Inc. as a mechanic in their body shop. Evidence presented at his trial indicated that Bigby believed his friends were conspiring against him to thwart a worker's compensation claim he filed against Frito-Lay.

During a trial recess, Bigby ran behind Judge Don Leonard's unoccupied bench, where there was a .38-caliber revolver. Bailiff Tim Stallings ordered him to stop. Bigby took the gun and pointed it at Stallings, who then ducked behind a desk. Bigby then ran into Leonard's chambers, where Leonard was seated at his desk. He stood over Leonard, pointed the gun at his head, and said "Let's go." Judge Leonard immediately jumped out of his chair, grabbed Bigby's gun hand, and slammed it back against the wall. Bigby was subdued by the judge, the prosecutor, and a bailiff.

Bigby knew where the judge's chambers were because he had been taken through them on the way to and from the jail. The elevator that was normally used to transport inmates to court was broken.

Bigby's lawyer moved for a mistrial. Judge Leonard denied the motion. The attorney then moved for Leonard's recusal. This matter was taken to the presiding administrative judge, who held a hearing. In the hearing, Judge Leonard testified that Bigby's assault had not prejudiced him against him. The presiding judge ruled that Leonard did not have to recuse himself, and the trial resumed.

The defense called Dr. James Grigson, a psychiatrist, to testify. Grigson stated that Bigby suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia and that at the time of the murders, he "was not aware of the difference between right and wrong." When the defense lawyer asked Grigson if he would say there was "no other explanation" for Bigby killing either Trekell or Jayson, he agreed.

Grigson, who testified in 167 capital murder trials in Texas, usually for the state, was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association in 1995 because of his history of issuing diagnoses on the witness stand with rock-solid certainty but often without interviewing or even meeting the subject.

Bigby had two previous felony convictions for burglary and theft. He served five months of a three-year sentence in 1977 and three months of a two-year sentence in 1983.

*Most news articles omit any mention of Grace Kehler and describe Jayson as Trekell's son, but the baby's name is given in court documents as Jayson Kehler. One court document refers to him as Trekell's stepson, but none of the sources indicate that Trekell and Kehler were married. One court document calls her his "common-law wife."

**Sources differ as to whether Bigby shot Trekell in the back of the head with a revolver or in the back with a shotgun. Reflecting the confusion, one article called the weapon a ".357 shotgun" before issuing a correction stating that the weapon was a pistol.

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