When a Dickson County, Tennessee jury reconvened Monday to sentence Steven Wiggins for killing Sergeant Daniel Baker, counsel for the defendant argued Wiggins suffered mitigating mental-health issues.
Defense attorney David Hopkins emphasized to jurors that their determination of Wiggins’s guilt last week was not being challenged and that the task at hand is deciding whether life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty is deserved.
“The last time that I spoke with you, I told you that we would respect your verdict, and we do,” Hopkins said. “We also previously told you that the trial would not be a meaningless exercise. By your verdict, you have determined that Steven Wiggins will never again be free.”
The attorney then asked jurors to make a “personal, moral decision” that takes into account a number of factors, chief among them what was described as a traumatic upbringing. Hopkins said Wiggins was born with brain damage as a result of his father beating his mother while she was pregnant. Jurors also heard about frequent violent and sexual assaults Hopkins said Wiggins suffered at the hands of his father.
The defense lawyer said PET-scan and MRI evidence will corroborate the defendant’s psychological trauma and that Wiggins has had epileptic seizures as a result of them.
Hopkins also noted that his client has a 10-year-old son and that Wiggins “actually saved the life of a coworker” who suffered a heart attack, carrying the man out of a pit and getting him to the hospital.
Hopkins would later take testimony from Dr. Hamilton Small, a psychiatrist with the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute who was the medical officer on duty when Wiggins was brought in after arrest. The psychiatrist said Wiggins had a history of suicide attempts and that the patient reported “auditory hallucinations” and suicidal thoughts.
“It’s evidence that we believe are compelling reasons that life without the possibility of parole is more appropriate than death,” Hopkins said. “None of it’s an excuse. None of it is a justification as to how Steven Wiggins may have acted as an adult.”
On May 30, 2018, Wiggins shot Baker to death at the intersection of Tidwell Switch and Sam Vineyard Roads in Bon Aqua as the sergeant responded to a reported vehicle theft by the defendant. Wiggins would put the sergeant’s body into the patrol car, drive it several miles away and set it on fire with Baker’s body still inside it.
A possible sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 51 years was initially under consideration, but the 34-year-old Wiggins has offered to accept life imprisonment without the possibility of parole while asking that the jury to reject District Attorney General Ray Crouch’s request for the death penalty.
On Saturday, jurors heard an impact statement from Baker’s widow Lisa.
“It feels like yesterday and forever ago at the same time,” Lisa said of Daniel’s death. “I used to believe in the good in the world and that bad things only happen to bad people. I used to be the person that thought, no matter what, everything will just work out. I used to say things like ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘God will never give me more than I can handle.’ All of that and all of those piece of who I thought I was, that is all gone.”
She reminded jurors that the loss she mourns is also mourned by her and Daniel’s daughter, who was just under two years old at the time of her father’s death.
“Every girl deserves a good father, and she had a great one…,” Lisa Baker said. “Now she is five and her questions are many. All that I have been able to explain to her so far is that Daddy was working and he went to help someone, got hurt and was unable to make it to the doctor. She believes that her daddy is a hero, that every American flag, eagle and police badge are all just for her daddy.”
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