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M. Ross Bigelow, 77; Judge Presided at Trial of SLA Members in '74 Shootout

Obituaries

September 07, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

M. Ross Bigelow, a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge who presided over the high-profile trial of two Symbionese Liberation Army members who were involved in a 1974 police shootout while being arrested in the killing of an Oakland school superintendent, has died. He was 77.

Bigelow died Tuesday of complications from congestive heart failure in a hospice in Temecula, said his daughter, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tricia Ann Bigelow.

Appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1969 by Gov. Ronald Reagan, Bigelow began his 15-year career as a Superior Court judge in 1973.

Known as a fair and scholarly judge and an expert in the law of evidence, Bigelow lectured frequently on evidence before the National Trial Judges College and the California Trial Judges College.

His most highly publicized case was the trial of SLA members Russell Little and Joseph Remiro on charges of attempted murder of a policeman, assault and possession of explosives stemming from a shootout in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Concord.

The shootout occurred during the men's arrest in January 1974, in the Nov. 6, 1973, slaying of Oakland School Supt. Marcus Foster.

The Foster killing was the first known violent act of the SLA, a self-styled band of revolutionaries who gained nationwide attention when members kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.

The trial of Little and Remiro was moved to Los Angeles because of the publicity that surrounded their case and the June 1975 conviction in the attack that killed Foster and seriously wounded his assistant Robert Blackburn.

The Los Angeles trial was held in what was then the high-security courtroom of the downtown Criminal Courts Building, and Bigelow was accompanied by an armed guard on the daily drive to the courthouse from his home in Lakewood.

Tricia Ann Bigelow, who was in high school at the time, remembers the heightened security at home.

"The house had to be inspected to make sure it was safe enough with all the locks on the windows and the doors," she said. "And every night the Lakewood Sheriff's Department would come with not only their helicopter to shine the big spotlight in the backyard, but they also came at least every hour to walk through the backyard and the frontyard."

Her father and stepmother also had to check with law enforcement officials before leaving the house, she said.

"Frankly, it was frightening," she said. "I had to be concerned about my personal safety, and security officials talked to me about how to avoid kidnapping."

The shootout trial lasted three months, but after 19 days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Little on all charges and was unable to reach a verdict on any charges against Remiro.

Bigelow declared a mistrial in Remiro's case and he was not retried in the shootout.

Little's conviction in the Foster killing was reversed in 1979 when the state Supreme Court found that the judge erred in giving jury instructions, and Little was acquitted after a 1981 retrial on the same charges. The court, however, upheld the conviction of Remiro, who is serving a life sentence in connection with the Foster killing.

The son of a ranch foreman and a teacher, Bigelow was born in Hemet in 1924 and grew up in Long Beach.

He earned a bachelor's degree at USC in 1945 after serving in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He earned his law degree at USC in 1950.

After returning to active service during the Korean War, he went into private practice in Long Beach, where he was active in the Republican Party. In 1956, he formed a partnership in general civil practice, Bigelow & Sullivan.

After retiring from the Superior Court in 1988, Bigelow worked as a judge in private mediation. After he and his wife, Mildred, moved to their vacation home in Crestline, in the San Bernardino Mountains, Bigelow continued to sit as an assigned judge for the San Bernardino Superior Court, in addition to the local appellate court branch until about four years ago.

While on the bench, Bigelow wrote a number of published opinions on criminal law, including holdings on probable cause, right to speedy trail, and sufficiency and admissibility of evidence.

He also wrote a set of books distributed to each judge in the state, including "Evidence Objections Handbook," "Constitutional Rights in Criminal Cases" and "Felony Trials and Procedures, Orientation Notebook."

In addition to his daughter, Bigelow is survived by his wife of 35 years; his three other children, Becky Rice of Temecula, Jean Shedlock of Tucson, and James Bigelow of Driggs, Idaho; three stepchildren, Sharon Burson of Temecula, Julie Epson of Lakewood and Susan Corrigan of San Pedro; 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. His first wife, Janet, died in 1965.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today at New Community Lutheran Church, 30470 Pauba Road, Temecula.

The family suggests memorial donations to the American Heart Assn., 1710 Gilbreth Road, Burlingame, CA 94010.

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