Texas law provides three basic ways to commit murder. The first is what anyone would recognize as murder, intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person. Next, there is “felony murder” which means committing a murder in furtherance of another felony or in flight from that felony.
The third type of murder involves not a specific intent to kill, but commission of an act “clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.” The classic example has always been a person shooting into a car and striking an occupant. The shooter might not have specifically intended to kill that person, but the action displays such a wanton disregard for the lives of other people that they are punished under the law for the result and not the intent. In the common law, this has been known as “depraved heart” murder.
Chante Mallard was a woman without direction. The 25 year old was single, a certified nurses aide working at a retirement home. For the last several years, she had been increasingly taking drugs and alcohol to deal with her dissatisfaction in life. She bounced around between jobs. October 25, 2001, she met up with her best friend, Titilisee Fry, who went by “T.” The two had a drink, split and ecstasy pill and smoked a joint on the way to Joe’s Big Bamboo Nightclub.
Mallard danced, drank, and smoked more marijuana before leaving the club at 2:30 the morning of the 26th. Mallard was much too impaired to drive, so T drove them both home, however once they got to T’s house, Mallard insisted on driving herself home. She was driving down 287, the six lane MLK Highway in Fort Worth. As she made the sweeping turn at Loop 820, just before Village Creek, she struck 37 year old Gregory Glen Biggs.
Much has been made of Biggs being homeless. When I began researching this story, I delved into several Reddit threads and they all ended the same way, an endless discussion of the homeless. People speculated on whether Biggs was mentally ill or an addict. Maybe he was intentionally homeless. Maybe he stepped in front of the car on purpose. Maybe he was drunk and wandered into Mallard’s path.
Just a couple years before his death, Greg Biggs, was a school bus driver and a self-employed brick layer. Like many of the working poor, he was a few rough months away from financial ruin. When he became unable to make his truck payments, he lost his truck. Without that truck, he couldn’t get jobs and landed on the streets. For two years, he had moved from shelter to shelter.
The city of Fort Worth has approximately 5,000 people classified as homeless at any given time. There is no organization with primary responsibility for assisting the homeless population. Instead there is a smorgasbord of organizations trying to meet the complex needs of the city homeless. Like their needs, the causes of homelessness, usually a combination of poor choices and bad luck, are too complex to be explored here. The population centers around two main shelters, Presbyterian Night Shelter and the Union Gospel Mission.
Biggs usually stayed at the Union Gospel Mission. He was known in the homeless community as a friendly man with goals to try and get out of poverty. But whatever his reason for being homeless, for being on the street that night instead of a shelter bunkbed, Denver Moore, one of Biggs friends at UGM put it best in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram interview when he said, “He deserved a chance to live, too.”
Biggs never had that chance. Mallard slammed into him with her gold, 1997 Chevrolet Malibu impaling him in the windshield. His head and torso were inside the car, his chest against the dashboard on the passenger side. His legs hung outside. His left leg was almost amputated.
Mallard kept going. She would later say that she stopped and tried to pull him out of her windshield, but he was wedged in too firmly. When he moaned, she made the decision that would cost Biggs his life and ruin her own. She drove a mile to her house and closed the garage door.
Biggs was still alive in her garage. Mallard went out and checked on him and found him moaning and moving around. Remember that Mallard was a certified nurse assistant, but she did not seek medical attention for Biggs. She would later claim that she cried and apologized to him.
Then she closed the garage again.
Dr. Peerwani, Chief Medical Examiner for Tarrant County would later testify that Biggs suffered no major trauma to his head, chest, or vital organs. Biggs was, however, bleeding heavily from the nearly amputated leg.
Instead of seeking help for Biggs, Mallard sought help for herself. She called T, telling her she had an emergency. When T arrived, Mallard wanted help in finding her ex-boyfriend, Clete. He would help her, she was sure, but he wasn’t answering his phone and she couldn’t drive around looking for him. Her car otherwise occupied. She took T into the garage and showed her Biggs. Mallard said she had tried to move him, but that he was too heavy. T advised her she needed to call 911 but Mallard refused. She didn’t want to go to jail for Driving While Intoxicated. She decided the best thing to do would be for her and T to go back to T’s house and sleep it off. So they did.
Medical experts agree that Biggs was alive for around two to three hours. Blood spatter show he was moving around as he slowly bled to death, impaled in Mallard’s windshield. Alone. In the dark.
The next day, Mallard borrowed T’s car and went looking for Clete Jackson. Clete was no stranger to trouble with the law. He had already done prison time for drugs and burglary. When Mallard took him to her garage, he touched Biggs to make sure he was finally dead. Satisfied, he said he would need help to move the body. They decided that instead of trying to bury Biggs, they would dump him at nearby Cobb Park. Clete called his cousin Herbert Cleveland for help. Like Clete, Herbert also had done a stint in prison. The two men wrapped Biggs in a blanket, placed him in the trunk of Clete’s car, and transported him to the park where they dumped him by the side of the road as if he were a traffic casualty.
Two men out walking spotted Biggs body and reported it to a nearby fire station. Crime Scene immediately noticed that Biggs hadn’t been killed at that location. His socks and shoes were missing and there wasn’t enough blood for someone who had bled to death. His injuries were consistent with an auto accident, but this detail led the Medical Examiner to declare the cause of death as undetermined.
A week later, Mallard and friends were back at the club, drinking, dancing, smoking dope as if nothing had happened.
With no real leads, the case was cold and Mallard might have gotten away with it if she had only kept her mouth shut. February 15, 2002, Mallard and a group of friends were at her house drinking and trying to figure out who was going to drive them to a club when Mallard piped up that she couldn’t drive. Her car was broken. She giggled about it and told them she was messed up on “X” when “I hit a white guy.” She spun a tale about having conversations with the man dying in her windshield over a matter of days while she and her boyfriend has sex in her house. None of that was true, however she did say that the man’s legs were “all twisted up and broken” when they pulled him out.
One of Mallard’s friends, Amanda Marable was shocked at the callous attitude. Had her friend really hit someone and left him to die? Another friend, who went by the name “Keke” added that it was true. Keke told Amanda that it she had been in Mallard’s garage and seen the wrecked Malibu with blood and hair still on it. According to Keke, the garage smelled horrible.
Amanda went to the police. Armed with her sworn statement, Fort Worth detectives were able to get a search warrant for Mallard’s house and garage. The served the warrant on February 26th. Mallard herself opened the door to let them in. In her garage still sat the murder weapon, a gold 1997 Chevy Cavalier with the windshield broken out. The car had been gutted in an attempt to dispose of evidence. Several of the seats had been burned in the backyard. Blood stained the front passenger floor.
Mallard gave a confession of sorts. She initially told detectives that she had only two drinks at Joe’s Bamboo Club and then “felt funny” and believed someone had “slipped something into her drink.” She would give multiple self-serving statements. She next said that a white homeless man staggered in front of her car and she hit him. She drove home because she was too afraid and distraught to think straight. She laid on the floor of her kitchen sobbing. She went out to the garage and apologized to the man, who spoke to her, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She claimed that she asked someone she identified as “Vaughn” for help and he told her to leave and took charge of everything. She was shocked to discover he had cleaned up the crime scene and disposed of the man’s body. She, of course, had nothing to do with that.
Mallard was placed under arrest. The original charge was Failure to Stop and Render Aid Resulting in Death. The charge is exactly what it sounds like. If she had stopped at the scene of the accident, there would have been no charge—in theory. In all likelihood, Mallard would have been charged with Driving While Intoxicated or Intoxication Manslaughter, and she knew it. She knew she was impaired.
But Dr. Peerwani re-evaluated the case based upon the new evidence and changed the manner of death to homicide. Richard Alpert of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office consulted with physicians who agreed that if Biggs had received treatment, he certainly would have survived. Mallard’s charges were upgraded to Felony Murder by committing an act clearly dangerous to human life. She had killed Biggs not with her car, but with her depraved heart.
The case was far from a slam dunk. Two veteran prosecutors, Richard Alpert and Christy Jack would have the challenge of convincing a jury that this was not a tragic accident, but murder. Defense attorneys argued that an omission, failing to seek medical care, was not the same thing as committing an act clearly dangerous to human life. Prosecutors argued that when Mallard took Biggs home with her and closed him up in her garage where he could not be found or receive medical care were acts clearly dangerous to human life.
At trial Mallard’s 2003 trial, Dr. Peerwani testified as follows:
Q. [PROSECUTOR:] Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of continuing to drive that motor vehicle with Mr. Biggs lodged in the windshield would have aggravated his condition?
A. [DR. PEERWANI:] Yes, sir, I do.
Q. And what is that opinion?
A. It certainly would have aggravated the condition.
Q. And why is that? How can you say that?
A. Well, he’s not anchored well. Motions of the car acceleration, turning around corners, stopping would shift the body and would cause more injury to his unsupported near amputated lower extremity and perhaps increase his vascular trauma and injury.
Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of trying to pull him in or out of that windshield of that car within minutes of striking him would have aggravated him?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And what is that opinion?
A. That would also certainly cause similar types of increase in damage to the tissues.
Q. Now, the very serious injury that you showed them a photograph of, of the left leg, are you able to tell whether any of that vascular tearing happened after impact or not? In other words, once the bone and skin are cut, can improper moving of the leg or the body cause further tearing of those veins and arteries?
A. Yes, certainly. It’s distinctly possible, sir.
Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of driving the car in which Mr. Biggs was lodged and into a garage and closing the door of that garage was an act clearly dangerous to his life?
A. Yes, sir, in the sense that there was no help asked, certainly.
Q. Okay. In fact, do you think his odds of receiving help would have been better if he had been left along the roadway?
. . . .
A. Certainly, in an enclosed garage, nobody is going to observe an injured person. Open space, there’s more chance somebody might observe a person and ask for help.
Q. Or at least some chance; is that correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you have an opinion whether or not the act of driving Mr. Biggs to a garage while he was alive and leaving him in the garage and not giving him medical attention contributed to his cause of death?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And what is your opinion?
A. It certainly did, sir.
. . . .
Q. And the cause of death ultimately that you found in this case?
A. The cause of death medically was described as multiple traumatic injuries sustained in the auto/pedestrian collision.
Q. And the manner of death?
A. The ultimate amended manner of death was filed as homicide, sir.
The chair of emergency medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital testified that Biggs injuries were very survivable if he had only received treatment. He further testified that no one who presented with similar injuries had died.
Both Clete Jackson and Herbert Cleveland both took plea deals. Each man pled guilty to Tampering with Evidence in exchange for 10 years. As part of the plea, they were required to testify truthfully against Mallard.
The portrait that emerged at trial was of a woman who was intensely narcissistic. When out of the presence of the jury, Mallard was stoic. In front of the jury, she cried. Her testimony was all about herself and how this offense had affected her. She talked about how the glass blew inside the car and stung her. She talked about her fear and distress. She claimed to have curled up on the kitchen floor and begged for forgiveness.
The defense sought a lesser charge of Failure to Stop and Render Aid.
In response, prosecutors showed the jury footage of Mallard partying at the club just a week later, dancing and drinking as if she hadn’t a care in the world. After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury convicted Mallard.
At punishment, the defense asked for leniency. They pointed to her lack of criminal history and said she was “placed in extraordinary circumstances,” but that she wasn’t “a horrible person.” The jury could have sentenced Mallard to a few as 5 years or as many as 99. They gave her 50.
Although Gregory Glen Biggs was homeless, he had family who loved. Biggs’ son, Brandon, was a high school senior when he learned his father had been killed. He had to take on the entire responsibility for planning the funeral himself. He would later say that the one bright spot was that this brought him in contact with his father’s side of the family from whom he was estranged.
At the sentencing, Brandon gave a moving speech, forgiving Mallard. He said to her family, ”There’s no winners in a case like this. Just as we all lost Greg, you all will be losing your daughter.” Biggs is now a grown man, married with three children, one who bears his grandfather’s name. Although the he has forgiven Mallard, he had neverspoken with her or corresponded with her. He believes his forgiveness doesn’t mean she should not pay for her crimes, but that he bears no personal hatred in his heart.
As Brandon Biggs said to the courtroom, as Mallard was taken away, and her mother sobbed. “If love is what makes the world go round, compassion is what makes it sincere.”