CHARLOTTE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Attorneys for Steven Wiggins want the state’s intention of seeking the death penalty in the case to be dropped, citing a “constitutionally intolerable conflict of interest” with the district attorney.
Wiggins’ attorneys filed a motion on his behalf, asking that the intent to seek the death penalty be dismissed. They’re also seeking to dismiss the indictment and want to disqualify DA Ray Crouch from participating in Wiggins’ prosecution.
Wiggins is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Dickson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Daniel Baker on May 30, 2018. He’s facing the death penalty in the case.
Wiggins’ attorneys say Crouch can’t be impartial in prosecuting the case due to his “apparent personal fidelity and bias towards Sgt. Baker’s family, colleagues and law enforcement.”
The motion also referenced an ongoing lawsuit involving DA Crouch and TBI Director David Rausch, among several others.
That lawsuit stems from the arrest of a man who posted a controversial photograph that depicted someone urinating on Baker’s grave. Authorities arrested Joshua Andrew Garton, charging him with harassment. He spent two weeks in jail before the charge was dismissed for lack of probable cause. The same judge determined the post was not protected under free speech.
It turned out the photograph was a fake and was posted to Garton's private page but then shared by others. Garton's lawyers say they obtained an internal correspondence among the defendants admitting, "We violated Garton's First Amendment rights" to post online but did so because Sgt. Bakers' surviving family members have rights, too.
The motion also cited Crouch’s apparent support of the Sgt. Daniel Baker Act, which speeds up a death penalty appeal by skipping the state Court of Criminal Appeals and provide automatic state Supreme Court death penalty reviews. Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law in 2019.
Wiggins’ trial is set to begin on July 26. The trial, which had been rescheduled more than once, was set to take place in November of 2020. However, the defense had asked for more time so they could conduct psychological testing, which was delayed due to the pandemic.
Judge David Wolfe also cited the difficulty in maintaining COVID-19 protocols in bringing in an outside jury. As of now, they will continue seeking the same jury panel from Knoxville.