FORT WORTH - A mile and a half.
Windshield case: Was it murder?
Star-Telegram staff writers
The curved stretch of dimly-lit highway and one exit were all that lay between Chante Jawan Mallard and her house in Fort Worth.
Maybe the homeless man was standing in the roadway. Maybe he was walking along the shoulder. Maybe he darted in front of Mallard's gold Chevrolet Cavalier.
Chante Mallard's trial in the death of Gregory Biggs is expected to begin Monday in the 371st state District Court in Fort Worth. Court TV is scheduled to televise the proceedings. State District Judge James Wilson has placed a gag order on the lawyers and on others involved in the case. The `Star-Telegram will provide continuous updates at www.star-telegram.com.
What is known is that Mallard hit the man, Gregory Glenn Biggs. Police say it was probably an accident. What followed, they said, was anything but.
The decisions that the young nurse's aide made in the next few hours would catapult her into a glaring spotlight that has tormented her family and friends and set the stage for one of the year's most anticipated trials.
With Biggs, bleeding but conscious, lodged in her car's shattered windshield, Mallard kept driving. Not to the nearby police station. Not to the nearby fire station. But to her home.
She pulled into her garage.
She closed the door.
On Monday, she goes on trial for murder.
What happened inside Mallard's garage in the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 26, 2001, is still unclear.
She gave the following account to police, according to an arrest warrant affidavit:
Mallard, 25 at the time, was driving home from Joe's Big Bamboo Club in Arlington. She had had only two drinks but "felt funny," as if something had been slipped into her drink.
On the long curve from East Loop 820 to U.S. 287, a man crashed through her windshield, coming to rest partially inside the passenger side of the car.
Authorities have said his torso was dangling over the dashboard and his legs were curled onto the roof of the car.
Mallard told police that she panicked, drove home and sat inside her garage, crying and apologizing to the injured man.
She later went into the house, lay on the kitchen floor and cried more. She returned repeatedly to tell the man, who was moaning in pain, that she was sorry.
Eventually, she stopped going to the garage. She doesn't know how long it took for him to die.
She called a man named Vaughn, who came over, saw what had happened and took her to a friend's house. Vaughn left, and when he returned, he was with another man. Vaughn told Mallard, "Don't worry about it. I took care of it."
Mallard went home that Sunday. Days later, she looked into the garage and discovered that the man was gone.
But Mallard told a different story around Valentine's Day, according to a woman who tipped police to Mallard's involvement in the case.
That woman's statement, also revealed in the affidavit, goes as follows:
Mallard and a small group of women were planning to go out for the night when Mallard mentioned that she could not take her car.
She explained that she had hit a man while intoxicated and "messed up" on the drug Ecstasy. She told the women that, after leaving the injured man in her garage, she had sex with her boyfriend, Terrance, inside the house.
The couple later went into the garage and listened to the dying man plead for help. Then they went back inside the house.
Mallard told the women they waited until the man died a couple of days later, then Terrance and his brother dumped the body in Cobb Park, southeast of downtown Fort Worth.
Nizam Peerwani, the Tarrant County medical examiner, said the condition of Biggs' body when it was found the morning of Oct. 27 indicates that it had been dumped there within a day or so of the accident.
He also said that Biggs, whose left leg was nearly amputated, died within hours, not days, from blood loss and shock.
Peerwani ruled Biggs' death a homicide, stating that he would have survived had he received medical treatment.
Police, meanwhile, were still trying to determine who had disposed of the body.
Months later, with at least some help from a tipster, investigators with the Tarrant County district attorney's office found Clete Denel Jackson, 28, and his cousin, Herbert Tyrone Cleveland, 25. They eventually pleaded guilty to helping Mallard.
They are expected to testify against her.
Chante Mallard was born June 22, 1976, the youngest of three siblings, the only girl and the apple of her daddy's eye.
Her father, James Mallard Sr., worked at a Fort Worth trucking company. Her mother, Dorothy, stayed home, raising Chante and her brothers, James Jr. and Marcus.
Church was a central part of their lives, with the family regularly attending Sunday morning services and Wednesday night Bible study at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in north Fort Worth.
Even after the family moved from north Fort Worth to the city's southeast side, they never broke from the congregation. They traveled from their new home in the 800 block of Marion Street to the church at 2823 N. Houston St.
Lucille Hamilton, the church secretary, recalled that Chante was a quiet and reserved child. She said all three of the Mallard children were well-mannered and even spoiled a little by their parents.
"I don't think they ever lacked or wanted for anything," she said.
When Mallard entered high school, she began volunteering in the church's nursery, helping care for the children and teaching them the Bible.
She balanced that with an active high school life, playing in the O.D. Wyatt High School concert and marching bands for four years and serving two years as a trainer for the boy's soccer team.
James Hamilton, the band director, said Mallard played saxophone and clarinet at a time when the high school boasted one of the largest marching bands in the city.
"She was kind of just a quiet kid, never gave me any problems that I recall," Hamilton said. "She wasn't a straight-A student. I guess she was right in the middle of the range."
Hamilton said Mallard was polite and dressed better than most of her classmates. VaDonna Banks Spruill, a childhood friend, said she used to tease Mallard, telling her that she was "uppity" because of her clothing and perfectly styled hair.
After graduating from high school in 1994, Mallard studied nursing part time at Tarrant County Junior College.
Her parents helped Mallard, then 19, buy a modest, yellow clapboard house, valued at about $20,000, at 3840 Wilbarger St.
Mallard had her freedom, but friends said she wasn't totally independent.
Occasionally, Mallard would rely on her parents to bail her out of financial trouble -- a fact that embarrassed her, Spruill said.
Spruill recalled once getting a phone call from a distraught Mallard, who had fallen behind in her bills.
Mallard moved in with Spruill and her husband and considered renting out her house rather than asking her father for help again.
"She's just her daddy's baby," Spruill said. "He's got her out of debt before. She said she didn't want to put that on him, and she was afraid to tell him.
"She cried the day she was here. I told her to stop crying. She had me crying. I said, `It's OK. We're going to take care of it.' "
When Spruill learned that Mallard had placed a newspaper ad offering her house for rent, she finally persuaded her friend to seek her parents' help.
"She called me. She was so happy. She said her dad paid everything and got everything back on. She said she was going back to her house," Spruill said.
It was in that house's small attached garage that, police say, Gregory Glenn Biggs begged for his life.
Biggs, 37, had lost his truck, his home and his livelihood.
But he never lost hope.
For almost two years, the former bricklayer lived on the streets and in homeless shelters.
But Biggs had a plan to get his life back on track. He and Rafael Gomez, whom he had met at the Salvation Army shelter in Fort Worth, discussed going into the masonry business together. Gomez had a car but needed to save enough money to buy a truck.
"He asked me to hold his tools for him," Gomez said. "I said I sure would; I would take care of them. He even loaned me $60."
Gomez later moved out of the shelter and became a cook at a boarding house. He still had Biggs' belongings and the hope that the men would work together. In October 2001, he tried to page his old friend.
Biggs didn't respond.
Months later, while watching the news, Gomez found out why.
"They mentioned Gregory Glenn Biggs. I had to look twice. When they showed his picture, it shocked me," Gomez said.
Gomez sent the tools to Biggs' son, Brandon, now a 20-year-old student at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie. Brandon Biggs was the only family member to maintain contact with Gregory Biggs after he became homeless.
Gregory Biggs' former mother-in-law, Carol Smith, said she learned about his plight in a phone call.
"He called Brandon one day. I said, `Greg, do you have a phone number where Brandon can call you?' " Smith remembered. "He said, `I wish I did,' which broke my heart because I didn't know he was in a shelter. That's when I found out."
Smith said Biggs married her daughter, Tammy, in October 1982 after the teen-ager became pregnant. About a year later, she said, he began showing signs of mental illness.
"It scared her to death," Carol Smith said of her daughter. "She was just 15. She didn't know what to do."
The couple divorced in December 1984. Gregory Biggs saw his son whenever possible, sometimes at a Fort Worth homeless shelter.
Carol Smith said Biggs was embarrassed by his situation.
"I didn't want everybody to think Greg was just a down-and-out - no good," she said. "He wasn't. He was a great guy. ... He just had gotten out of work, lost his truck, and that's what happened. It did matter to him."
Kay Scaggs, facility supervisor for the Day Resource Center, a daytime refuge for the homeless, said Biggs often came by to shower, use the phone and pick up his mail.
Scaggs said she last saw Biggs several weeks before he died.
A card addressed only to "Dad" had arrived at the center. Inside was a picture of a boy wearing a football uniform and a message asking his father to call him. Scaggs could see the resemblance between the boy and Gregory Biggs.
She gave Biggs the card.
"I said, `You call him and let him know you're OK ... he needs to talk to you," Scaggs said. "I made him call him that day.
"Next thing I know, I was hearing about him on TV."
Scaggs said she knew that Biggs had mental problems.
Still, she said: "He knew enough not to walk out in front of a car. He was an all-right guy. I sure hated to hear that she left him there to die."
Lisa Cook Schoensee graduated with Biggs from Evangel Temple Christian School in Grand Prairie in 1982.
She said she can't comprehend how the good-natured, well-mannered, quiet student she knew could end up as a homeless man who bled to death lodged in the windshield of a car.
Biggs was a handsome young man who was voted "Most Teachable" his junior year and was a member of the prayer club. Schoensee still has snapshots from a senior year carwash at which students threw a bucket of water on Biggs -- a prank that drew laughter from him.
She was heartbroken to learn how he died.
"Nobody deserves that," Schoensee said. "He was still a human being. He did have a past. He was a nice guy when I knew him. I don't know what happened to him later in life, but I'll always remember the nice, polite man who I went to school with."
* * *
When two elderly men found Biggs' body in Cobb Park, his legs were broken, his body was contorted and he had lacerations and glass fragments on his face.
Glass was also visible in his blood-stained blue sweat shirt, which he wore along with a gray sports coat and green shirt. His underwear and torn khaki pants, with his wallet and identification still tucked in the pocket, were around his left ankle.
He was faceup, but blood had settled on the front of his body, indicating that he had been facedown for a period of time, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
It quickly became evident to investigators that he was a hit-and-run victim who had been struck elsewhere.
Brandon Biggs was notified the next day that his father was dead.
"They told me they were looking for a suspect and they were contacting wrecker services, things like that," Brandon Biggs recalled in an earlier interview.
Biggs planned his father's funeral and, on Oct. 31, he was buried in Dallas. Brandon Biggs, his mother and his grandparents were the only ones in attendance.
For four months, the investigation into his death went nowhere. Someone, somewhere, was keeping a horrible secret.
In the end, it was girl talk at a party that unraveled the mystery and uncovered a bizarre tale that made headlines across the nation.
* * *
On Feb. 26, 2002, more than a dozen police officers went to Mallard's house with a search warrant. She opened the door wearing a robe and, upon seeing the officers, broke down.
"I'm not a bad person," police quoted her as saying. "It was an accident. It happened so fast. I've never even had a speeding ticket."
Inside the garage, authorities found Mallard's 1997 Cavalier.
"I noticed there were not seats, nor hardly any interior left in the vehicle," Fort Worth police Detective Don Owings testified at a hearing this month.
Mallard agreed to accompany authorities to the police station and gave them a written statement.
Mallard told Owings that she had removed the car seats and burned one because she feared getting caught and going to jail, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. The seats, one of them charred, were found in her back yard.
Mallard's fear of going to jail came true -- three times.
She was arrested that day on a warrant accusing her of failing to stop and render aid, but was quickly released on bond.
She was arrested again a week later on a murder warrant. She was released again. The new bond was $10,000.
Two days later, a judge raised her bond to $250,000.
This time, Mallard remained in jail.
Tarrant County prosecutors portrayed Mallard as a cold-blooded killer.
"I'm going to have to come up with a new word. Indifferent isn't enough. Cruel isn't enough to say. Heartless? Inhumane? Maybe we've just redefined inhumanity here," Richard Alpert, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney, said the day Mallard was arrested on the murder warrant.
Mike Heiskell, Mallard's attorney at the time, countered that the murder charge was overreaching.
"... In the end, I believe the law will shake out that this was simply a case of failure to stop and render aid," said Heiskell, who has been replaced by Fort Worth attorneys Jeff Kearney and Reagan Wynn.
Friends and co-workers described Mallard as a compassionate woman who was held in high regard by the nursing home residents for whom she cared.
She had dreams of becoming a nurse, of getting married, of having children.
"When we heard about it, we were all in shock that she could have actually done something like that," said Cynthia Washington, a former co-worker of Mallard's at Mariner Health in Fort Worth. "We thought she had to be on something because her demeanor at the nursing home was totally different than how they were describing her."
But some said that, looking back, there were subtle signs that something was wrong.
Spruill, the childhood friend, who also worked with Mallard at Mariner Health, said she remembered that Mallard stopped driving her car and began arriving at work late because she was depending on others to give her a ride.
"I said, `Tay, what happened to your car?' She was smiling. She always had a smile on her face," Spruill said. "She said, `Girl, I wrecked it.' She was scared to tell her dad because he was about to make the last payment on the car.
"I said, `Where's the car now?' She said it was at home in the garage."
Spruill said she never suspected that Mallard might be keeping a secret.
"I didn't see any change in her. That's why I was so shocked when I did find out about it," she said.
Spruill said she believes that Mallard panicked and, once again, didn't seek help from her parents for fear of disappointing them.
"She's a daddy's girl," Spruill said. "She doesn't want to do anything to hurt her daddy. That man loves this girl to death. He would do anything in the world for Chante. When I saw him on the news crying, that just killed me. I know how he felt inside."
Paul "Mr. Froze" Munson, 26, was a classmate of Mallard's at O.D. Wyatt. He now owns a convenience store at 2706 Bishop St. and hosts "open mike" nights at clubs in Arlington and Fort Worth. He said Mallard often dropped by his store, sometimes to shop, sometimes to visit.
About seven or eight months before her arrest, he said, Mallard quit coming.
"I never understood why," he said.
When Munson heard that she had been arrested, he was shocked, but he was sympathetic as well.
"I would say she was real, real scared and didn't know what to do," he said.
Many of Mallard's friends said she liked to visit clubs, although they never knew her to take drugs.
"All the stuff they're saying about her is bogus," said Marcus Anderson, another former co-worker. "She's cool. They make her seem like she's some kind of psycho. That's not Chante. Chante's got a heart.
"They're making her out to be like a monster. She's not. Dude, you just hit somebody, you're going to freak out. The first thing that's going to pop in your head is, `You're going to go to jail.' "
Cheri Orr, who lived across the street from Mallard, is not so forgiving.
She pointed out that a fire station and a police substation are near Mallard's house. She wonders why, if the accusations are true, Mallard didn't stop for help.
"All she had to do was say, `Oh Lord, I hit this man, Mr. Fire Department man.' The police station was just right there on Miller. Why did you make all this burden on your family and yourself? She hit this man and she hid this ... for so long. She thought she was going to get away with it.
"I don't wish any bad luck on her, but whatever God's got in store for her, she deserves it."
What was Mallard's relationship with Jackson and Cleveland? And who are Vaughn and Terrance?
The answers are muddled.
Although the arrest warrant affidavit says Mallard originally implicated men named Vaughn and Terrance, it was Jackson and Cleveland who confessed to moving Biggs' body. Police have not said whether they have identified anyone named Vaughn or Terrance.
Jackson has been linked to Mallard romantically, his attorney, Bill Harris, has said. But just how close the three were remains unclear.
Relatives of Jackson and Cleveland say they had never heard of Mallard. Most of Mallard's friends said they, too, did not know Jackson or Cleveland, who have had previous run-ins with the law. Jackson served prison time for burglary of a habitation; Cleveland was on probation for aggravated robbery.
But one of Mallard's friends, Narkeshia Holloway, recalls seeing Cleveland with Mallard at an Arlington club a couple of times.
"He really didn't talk much," Holloway said. "I just thought maybe it was someone she knew, just a sociable friend."
Jackson and Cleveland struck deals with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and agreed to testify against Mallard. Jackson received 10 years; Cleveland got nine.
Their incarceration has been especially painful for their grandmother, Lue Dora Smith.
Smith said she raised Jackson after his mother was murdered when he was 6. Patricia Jackson was shot in the throat by her former brother-in-law, according to a 1981 `Star-Telegram article. Her son witnessed the killing, Smith said.
"I told him when he was a little kid, `Don't lie,' to tell the truth, and that's what he's done," Smith said.
She said she taught the same lesson to Cleveland, who spent much of his childhood in her east Fort Worth home.
"It doesn't make any difference if it hurts, tell the truth," Smith said. "That's the way I was brought up and that's the way I brought them up -- always tell the truth."
A lot has happened since that night in October 2001.
Two men are in prison. Mallard's house has been sold. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Brandon Biggs has been settled out of court.
Friends say Mallard has changed, too.
When she was first jailed, Spruill said, Mallard told her in phone calls and letters that she was having trouble sleeping.
"The first time she called me, she cried," Spruill said. "She told me she loved me and she missed me. She didn't want to be there. I told her, `I understand,' to be strong.
"I told her it was going to be OK. `Put it in God's hands and he'll take care of it.' "
In their latest communications, Spruill said, Mallard seemed to be less troubled.
"She's been uplifting. She said she's turned to God and is willing to accept whatever is handed to her."
If convicted, Mallard faces a sentence that ranges from probation to life in prison.
On Monday, the day after her 27th birthday, her fate is placed in the hands of a jury.
Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655
Melody McDonald, (817) 390-7386