MODESTO — A prosecutor on Tuesday listed grim details of the moment Jennifer Lynn Bigham held her 3-year-old daughter underwater in a bathtub, drowning the child while powerless relatives standing outside a locked master bedroom heard the victim struggle for her life.
This was the first time authorities have spoken publicly about the specific circumstances that led to Alexandrea Bigham's death and the arrest of her mother on suspicion of murder.
The incident occurred about 5:50 p.m. Jan. 14, 2010, at a home in the 400 block of Thrush Drive in Patterson. Bigham and her daughter, of Castro Valley, were visiting relatives.
Deputy District Attorney Elaine Casillas said two relatives also were home at the time a 20-year-old and a 15-year-old. They suddenly realized Bigham and her daughter were inside the locked master bedroom.
"They heard splashing around in the bathroom," Casillas said in court. "One witness heard the child yelling, saying 'No, no.' "
Then they saw Bigham leave the bedroom and grab a steak knife from the kitchen. Casillas said Bigham stabbed herself in the chest with the knife.
The relatives found the little girl in the bathtub. Shortly after, sheriff's officials received a report of a child drowning in a bathtub. Casillas said deputies arrived and found the child in the hallway while others were performing CPR on her.
One of the relatives pointed to Bigham and told the deputies, "She did it. She killed her."
The prosecutor said Bigham then spoke, telling the deputies, "She's gone."
Authorities tried to resuscitate Alexandrea, but the girl died at a Modesto hospital about four hours later.
Stanislaus County sheriff's officials have said Bigham was found at the home with self-inflicted, superficial stab wounds to her upper body. She was treated at a hospital before she was jailed.
At the Tuesday morning hearing, as a matter of procedure, the prosecutor described what led to the child's death. Stanislaus County Superior Judge Thomas Zeff asked Casillas to state the facts for the record, listing what the evidence would have shown if the case had reached a preliminary hearing and a trial.
The defendant sat silently in the courtroom as the prosecutor described how her daughter was drowned in the bathtub.
Bigham, 26, has been in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail since she was booked Jan. 15, 2010. She will remain there until the court decides what will happen with her.
The judge already has ruled that Bigham is not guilty of murder and child abuse by reason of insanity. Now, the court has to determine whether the defendant still suffers from mental illness.
During the hearing, Bigham admitted to committing the crimes. Zeff said she is not guilty by reason of insanity based on reports from two doctors who examined her mental health.
The judge told the defendant that her plea could result in a life term at a medical facility or a length of time that would be longer than the maximum sentence had she been convicted for the crimes.
The doctors who have examined the defendant are expected to testify what they've learned about Bigham's current mental health in a hearing Jan. 22. The judge will then decide whether Bigham should receive further treatment at a secure medical facility, and for how long.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.