Texas Execution Information Center

Execution Report: James Bigby

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A jury found Bigby guilty of capital murder in March 1991 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in 1994.

Jurors in capital cases in Texas are given a set of instructions to guide them in determining whether to impose the death penalty or a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case involving another prisoner, found that the instructions jurors were given at the time of Bigby's trial did not give sufficient weight to potentially mitigating evidence, such as mental illness or retardation.

Bigby's case reached the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. On the recusal question, the court ruled that criminal defendants who attack judges are not automatically entitled to a mistrial or recusal, for such an entitlement would encourage such attacks and unruly behavior "either to manufacture constitutional due process violations or to delay trial proceedings." The court stated that in such cases, the reviewing courts must examine the trial record for indications of actual bias on the part of the trial judge. Nevertheless, the court vacated Bigby's death sentence based on the jury instruction question. The Fifth Circuit issued a modified version of its ruling, but with the same outcome, in March 2005.

At a new punishment hearing held for Bigby in 2006, defense attorneys repeated their claim that Bigby had a mental illness and was not responsible for his behavior. They also stated that he was a different person after living on Death Row for more than 15 years. Prosecutors argued that Bigby's aggressive personality and his choice to use methamphetamines made him responsible for the killings, not his schizophrenia.

Jurors at the second punishment hearing sentenced Bigby to death after receiving instructions that have passed Supreme Court muster. After the sentence was announced in court, Trekell's sister, Deborah Jameson, pleaded with Bigby, "May you stop these appeals. May you stop this begging and heed the punishment delivered."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the second death sentence in October 2008. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied. At Bigby's request, his lawyers did not file any last-day appeals on his behalf.

"I don't think anyone in the courtroom claimed he wasn't mentally ill, but there were too many dead people and a dead baby," Wes Ball, one of Bigby's lawyers at the second punishment trial, said to a reporter days prior to Bigby's execution. "And going up and getting the judge's gun out of his drawer in court and going at him ... is kind of the icing-on-the-cake moment."

"Mr. Bigby was never found to be insane," said Tarrant County assistant district attorney Helena Faulkner. "The jury rejected any claims that he had any type of mental illness or defect that would warrant not imposing a sentence of death."

Bigby was never tried for the killings of Crane or Johnson.

On the day of his execution, Bigby released a letter he wrote to Grace Kehler. In the letter, Bigby apologized to Kehler and told her he tried to drop his appeals. He also blamed Frito-Lay for the killings.

"Frito Lay caused my actions and they alone are to blame for what I did and it was not about money," he wrote. He claimed there were attempts on his life after he refused to settle or drop his lawsuit.

Kehler and five other relatives of Bigby's victims attended Bigby's execution. "I hope this will bring you peace, and I'm sorry for all the pain and suffering," he said to them in his last statement. "I hope that you could forgive me, but if you don't, I understand. I don't think I could forgive anyone who would have killed my children."

The lethal injection was then started. Bigby prayed and said "I promise, I'm sorry" several times. He sang "Jesus Loves Me" as the pentobarbital took effect. He was pronounced dead at 6:31 p.m.


By David Carson. Posted on 15 March 2017.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, Associated Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Tribune.

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