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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
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Top Stories

Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Bigham guilty of slaying, gets 75-year term

By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 28,1999 -- Christopher John Bigham will have 75 years to weep for the girlfriend he was convicted of murdering Dec. 1, 1997.

The same 143rd District Court jury that found him guilty Tuesday heard testimony from family and friends of Bigham and the victim, Lora Ann Brooks, before handing down the punishment of 75 years in prison and a $10,000 fine this morning.

District Attorney Randy Reynolds had sought a life sentence for the 37-year-old Washington State resident who claimed Brooks took her own life.

However, a 55-gallon drum that Bigham claims he used to cremate Brooks' remains so he could spread her ashes on the Cedar River in Washington at her request sat in the courtroom as a reminder of the crime.

"I am disappointed," said defense attorney Adrian Chavez of the verdict. "I think Chris is telling the truth about the suicide. I don't think he killed her."

Bigham took the stand on Tuesday to recant his taped confession played to the jury Monday and claimed that Brooks shot herself in the chest, dying almost instantly.

Brooks had threatened suicide on at least five occasions, at one time cutting her wrists, Bigham said. He had been able to talk her out of suicide before, but on the day of her death, Bigham said he told her to "Go ahead and do it if you're going to. You don't have the guts."

Describing an earlier lovers tryst with Brooks on a logjam in the Cedar River in Washington, Bigham said that the 29-year-old mother of four had made him promise that if she ever succeeded in taking her own life, that he would take her children back to their relatives or raise them himself.

Three of the children were living with Bigham and Brooks on a 20-acre "ranch" they had purchased along the east bank of the Pecos River in October, 1997. After Brooks disappeared, he returned to Washington with them in late December, 1997, stopping in San Diego, Calif. to take them to the zoo.

Family members concerned for the children and for the missing Brooks asked the FBI to investigate. Agent Jane Kelly of Midland drew Texas Ranger Jerry Villalobos into the case when she learned that Brooks may be dead.

Villalobos said that Brooks' daughter, Anna Martin, now 14, reported in August, 1998, that Bigham told her Brooks committed suicide and he had burned her body.

During an interview, Bigham first claimed Brooks shot herself, but then changed his story to self defense. Villalobos said he believes neither story, and that Bigham burned the body to destroy evidence that he killed her.

"I didn't believe any story he told," Villalobos said. "You can't generate enough heat in that barrel to reduce her to ashes like he claimed. I checked with experts."

The cremation process is done at 2000+ degrees in an oven for several hours, and still bones are left, he said.

"He contended all along that with 10 gallons of propane in an open container he completely burned her down to ashes and took her back to Washington and scattered them. I never believed that."

District Judge Bob Parks accepted the jury's verdict and remanded Bigham to Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez to begin serving his sentence. Bigham turned his back to the camera as he left the courthouse, saying, "I don't want my picture taken."

DNA test helps ID body as missing S. Texas man

By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 28,1999 -- A mystery that began in May, 1997 with the disappearance of a San Juan resident has been solved by DNA testing, said Texas Ranger Jerry Villalobos today.

Villalobos said that a DPS lab positively identified bones found in northern Reeves County in November, 1998, as that of Julio Cesar Cantu, 24.

Cantu was driving a 1991 Ford Ranger from San Juan, Texas to Idaho when he split up with his traveling companion, Villalobos said. He was last seen in Pecos by two police officers, Freddy Contreras and Tony Dawdy, when he caused a disturbance at a local store.

A rancher found Cantu's truck on County Road 428, five miles east of U.S. Highway 285 on May 31, 1997. A dead dog was in the passenger compartment.

Searches of the area failed to turn up any sign of Cantu until a seismograph crew found the bones near the area where the truck was found, Villalobos said.

A forensic anthropologist at Southwest Texas State University examined the bones and felt they could be Cantu. A video super-imposition by the DPS lab in Austin using photos of Cantu and the skull further narrowed the identification.

"The remains were submitted to the DPS lab in Austin, where they extracted a tooth from the scull to get a DNA sample. DPS Missing Persons in Austin got a letter from Cantu's mother that he had mailed to her. From the gum portion of the envelope, they got saliva, and the DNA matched it. He was positively identified Friday."

Villalobos said that Cantu's parents were enroute to Austin today to claim the remains, and the case has been closed for lack of any evidence of foul play.

"The party he had been riding with had gotten a ride back to South Texas," he said. "We couldn't find any connection to anyone else that would cause him harm, so the case will be closed."

Andrews, Levelland men jailed in task force sting

By ROSIE FLORES
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 28,1999 -- Two men are in Winkler County Jail facing drug charges following a combined effort by the Trans-Pecos Drug Task Force and several surrounding agencies.

The two men who were arrested in Kermit on Tuesday were identified as Juan Contreras Bejarano, 34, of Levelland and Antonio Contreras Olivas, 41, of Andrews. Both are charged with possession of a controlled substance, over 400 grams.

The suspects were arrested in the parking lot of an Allsup's, located at 100 Ave. `E' in Kermit.

Seized in the "sting" was a kilo (2.2 pounds) of cocaine, $7,000 in cash and a 1988 Chevrolet pickup, according to Trans Pecos Drug Task Force Interim Commander Tony Garcia.

"They're doing a great job and the interim commander of the drug task force is just doing an excellent job of working on several cases," said Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez.

Garcia said that this is just one of the cases the group is working on. At a recent Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting, he said that the group has been in place for about a month and already have 40 cases they are working on.

Garcia said Tuesday's drug bust was a combined effort by the Trans-Pecos Drug Task Force, Kermit Police Department, Winkler County Sheriff's Office and Lea County Drug Task Force out of Lovington, N.M.

The cocaine was appraised at about $60,000 street value.

"I'm just very proud of this group we have working on the drug task force, they are doing a great job and I know they will continue doing what they do best," said Gomez.

Bond for Bejarano was set at $100,000 and bond for Olivas was set at $25,000.

PHA to discuss problems with gangs at apartments

PECOS, April 28,1999 -- Controlling gang-related activities and vandalism around Pecos Housing Authority apartments will be the main topic for the Pecos Housing Authority board, when they hold their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, stating at 5 p.m. at the PHA/FLH Administration Office, 600 Meadowbrook Dr.

The meeting will focus on resolutions involving gang-related activities at PHA and Farm Labor Housing, along with residency of gang members in those homes. The board discussed the gang situation during their March meeting, and called for meeting with the parents of identified gang members at a later date.

Other items on Thursday's agenda including discussion of employees' wage increase for fiscal year 1999, changing the meeting date to the third Thursday of each month, and an update from Joe Paul Daves of Lindsey Co., fee accountant, along with utilizing the end of the month reports provided by Lindsey for commissioners' meetings.

The PHA will hold an "executive session" in accordance with the handbook on Media Law in Texas, an evaluation of the executive director for fiscal year Jan. 1, 1998 to Dec. 31, 1998. They will also close out the CIAP 96 update, and discuss the preliminary designs done by Don Striplin of Vaughn Architects Plus.

In the Farm Labor Housing portion of the meeting, board members will review/approve the FLH budget for fiscal year March 1, 1999 to Dec. 31, 1999, the FLH monthly financial statement, and FLH reports for the year ending March 31, 1999.

The board will also discuss a letter from John E. Perkins, community development specialist for rural development out of the Fort Stockton office. THe letter is to consider confirmation of a decision to change the FLH fiscal year ending to Dec. 31 and confirmation for an office visit on May 4, 1999.

The board will also review/approve PHA/FLH monthly reports and the minutes from the March 18 meeting.

Lotto

AUSTIN (AP) Results of the Cash 5 drawing Tuesday night: Winning numbers drawn: 02-04-08-13-35. Number matching five of five: one. Prize per winner: $84,652. Winning ticket(s) sold in: Dallas. Matching four of five: 269. Prize: $472.

***

AUSTIN (AP) The winning Pick 3 numbers drawn Tuesday by the Texas Lottery, in order: 1-3-0 (one-three-zero)

Weather

PECOS, April 28,1999 -- High Tuesday 92; low last night 52. Tonight, partly cloudy and breezy with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms. Low 55 60. Southeast wind 15-25 mph and gusty. Thursday, increasing cloudiness with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms. High in the mid 80s. Southeast wind 10-20 mph.



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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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