DICKSON, Tenn. – 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, reported WREG.
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, ABC News reported.
Baker was responding to a call about a suspicious car last week when he discovered it was stolen. As a result, 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 his body into the deputy’s cruiser and drove it to a rural area, where he set it on fire, according to the ABC News report.
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 Wiggins faces up to life in prison and is eligible for the federal death penalty if convicted.
However, Sessions would need to approve the AUSA seeking the death penalty, and those details were undisclosed. Nevertheless, a local prosecutor has said he will seek capital punishment on the state charges for both defendants.
According to federal prosecutors, the suspicious vehicle 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.
Baker determined the car had been stolen when he ordered the occupants out. During the process, 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. Then, he dragged the deputy’s body into the rear seat of the patrol car and drove it for three to four miles to a field, where he set it on fire and fled the scene, they said.
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.
Wiggins pleaded not guilty to the charges and a trial date was set for August 2019.
His co-defendant, Erika Castro-Miles, will reportedly be tried with him.