CHARLOTTE, Tenn. (AP) — A man charged with killing a deputy in Tennessee, trying to impersonate him and burning his body now faces federal as well as state charges that could be punishable by death, authorities announced Friday.
A state judge arraigned Steven Joshua Wiggins Friday on 12 charges including premeditated murder in the shooting of Dickson County sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Baker. His alleged accomplice, Erika Castro-Miles, also was arraigned, on the same murder charge.
The judge entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf and appointed public defenders for both. Wiggins appeared in court in orange prison scrubs, flip-flops and handcuffs, speaking lowly and showing little emotion. Castro-Miles was arraigned via webcam. The deputy’s friends and family, including his wife, Lisa, sat in the first row and became emotional at times.
Baker was responding to a call about a suspicious car last week when he discovered it was stolen and the situation quickly escalated, Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe said. Authorities believe Castro-Miles was in the car when Wiggins shot Baker, and that Wiggins dragged the deputy’s body into the police cruiser and drove it to a rural area, where he set it on fire. Wiggins then became the object of a massive 48-hour manhunt.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced after the hearing that federal charges against Wiggins include carjacking resulting in Baker’s death, shooting a gun while committing a violent crime, having that crime result in death and being a convicted felon with a gun.
“At the Department of Justice, we back the women and men in blue. Violence against law enforcement officers — federal, state, local or tribal — will not be tolerated,” Sessions said in a joint announcement with U.S. Attorney Donald Cochran.
Cochran’s office says that if Wiggins is convicted, he faces up to life in prison and is eligible for the federal death penalty, which needs Sessions’ approval. A local prosecutor has said he will seek capital punishment on the state charges for both defendants.
According to federal court documents, Wiggins said the suspicious vehicle was parked in the road pointed the wrong way for about four hours, had a flat tire and wasn’t drivable when Baker arrived at the scene; Wiggins was behind the wheel and Castro-Miles was in the front passenger seat. Wiggins gave Baker a fake Social Security number when asked for ID, court documents show.
Wiggins remained at large after being charged the day before for assaulting Castro-Miles and stealing that same car from her, according to a report from the Kingston Springs Police Department. Wiggins has multiple convictions for assault, violation of probation and other offenses on his record.
Baker determined the car had been stolen and ordered the two out of the car, but Wiggins claimed his door wouldn’t open and Baker ordered Wiggins to leave from the passenger side, prosecutors said.
Baker’s body camera recorded some of what happened next: While he walked around the rear of the car to the passenger side, Wiggins fired a pistol about five times at Baker, hitting him at least once. Baker tried to take cover, but collapsed, prosecutors said.
Wiggins then fired five more times, the last three at short range, prosecutors said.
Wiggins went into detail with state investigators about the shooting: After he had fired the first set of shots, he went to where Baker was lying, thought he was dead, but “didn’t want the man (Baker) to suffer,” so he shot Baker in the head multiple times: “like a dog, you know, man, its suffering. You make sure,” court documents show.
Wiggins also answered a radio dispatch and a call from another deputy on Baker’s cellphone, pretending to be the fallen sergeant, the state indictment says.
Then, he dragged the deputy’s body into the rear seat of the patrol car and drove it 3 or 4 miles to a field, court filings say. He told investigators he was thinking about the TV show CSI and worried about forensic evidence and fingerprints, so he found some paperwork and started fires in the front and back seats and fled, court documents show.
“Wiggins stated that he was worried about potential evidence because he ‘just killed a cop,'” according to a summary of his interview with investigators.
The evidence, however, wasn’t destroyed. Baker was found with two gunshot wounds to his torso, one to his hand and three to the left side of his head. A preliminary autopsy showed the right side of his uniform was charred and his skin blackened.