Sentencing phase begins in Steven Wiggins trial

Wiggins Trial Day 3_frame_24327.jpeg
Posted at 9:05 AM, Aug 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 08:03:38-04

CHARLOTTE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The sentencing hearing for Steven Wiggins began on Saturday morning.

Wiggins was found guilty on all counts in the murder of Dickson County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Daniel Baker after jury members deliberated for just over one hour.

The jury found Wiggins guilty on the following charges: premeditated first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder in perpetration of theft, false reporting, theft of property, criminal impersonation, criminal impersonation of law enforcement, tampering with evidence, arson, abuse of a corpse.

Starting Saturday, a jury will decide if he deserves the death penalty, life without parole or life with the chance of parole.

Before the hearing began, the court discussed two motions. The defense argued one of Tennessee's justifications for the death penalty is torture causing death, which they say doesn't apply in this case because Wiggins mutilated the body after death. The state argued there were actions before Sgt. Baker's death which meets that threshold.

Judge David Wolfe denied the defense's motion and ruled that Wiggins' additional shots after Baker's death meet the state's statute of "heinous, atrocious and cruel."

For the second motion under discussion, the state moved to strike testimony from one of the defense's witnesses. The defense filed a similar motion for one of the state's witnesses, but Judge Wolfe ruled that the state's witness testimony is permissible.

Following a brief recess, the jury was let into the courtroom and opening statements begun. District Attorney Ray Crouch pointed to five things in his statement, that Wiggins had a prior felony, the crime was heinous, atrocious and cruel, Wiggins committed the crime to avoid arrest, Baker was a law enforcement officer on duty and that Wiggins mutilated the body.

The defense will do opening statements after the state rests.

The state called Metro's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Feng Li as its first witness. Li performed an autopsy on Sgt. Baker. He said Baker was shot six times and have several burn injuries on his body. Baker's body also had traces of carbon monoxide and soot.

Li testified that there is video and medical proof that Baker was still alive after several of the gunshots and likely suffered in his final minutes. He was not cross-examined by the defense.

The second witness to testify during this phase of the trial was Jessica Borne, an assistant district attorney who investigated the case. Borne spoke on Wiggins' prior felony charge and history of violence. She was also not cross-examined by the defense.

After a break for lunch, court resumed with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Nathan Neese. During the testimony, Crouch played back portions of Neese's police interview with Wiggins for the jury.

The final witness to speak on Saturday was Lisa Baker, the widow of Sgt. Baker. She gave an emotional victim impact statement causing several jurors to cry while it was read. She spoke on how their daughter calls Sgt. Baker every night on her play phone and how he won't be around for her life's biggest moments.

Following her statement, the state rested its case.

Court will resume on Monday morning with the defense's closing arguments and their witnesses.