Man convicted of killing Oakland University student testifies to state parole board

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Kenneth Tranchida gave a member of Michigan's parole board and a state prosecutor chilling and conflicting accounts Tuesday of how he took the life of Oakland University student Tina Biggar nearly 26 years ago.

In a bid to get out of prison, Tranchida, now 67, described in frightening and graphic detail the last moments of the 23-year-old woman's life in a rented room in Southfield.

"I smothered her with my hand," said Tranchida as he illustrated with his left hand how he covered the young woman's mouth on Aug. 23, 1995 as she tried to leave his room."I put my hand over her face. She couldn't breathe."

Kenneth R. Tranchida

We're offering a great deal on all-access subscriptions. Check it out here.

Tranchida said he and Biggar met four months earlier at a gas station he worked at in Southfield that was not far from where Biggar took her car to be serviced. 

Described by police as a drifter, he also recounted in the hearing how he initially fled from his Southfield residence after killing Biggar. He came back to Biggar's body before he moved it to a home that police have identified as a former residence of a relative. He abandoned her remains there, he said. Police said he was later found with her vehicle.

Biggar died from blows to the head and neck, according to an autopsy.

Tranchida, sporting near-shoulder-length grey hair, told his story under questioning by Assistant Attorney Genera Alicia Lane and Michigan Parole Board member Jerome Warfield during the hearing hosted through a video platform. 

"I did not strangle her," said Tranchida, who wore a dark blue Michigan Department of Corrections inmate uniform with a red stripe along the shoulders.

Biggar was working on a research project about prostitution and AIDS that was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biggar had interviewed prostitutes in prison and on the streets for the project and had gone to work for an escort service, where she met Tranchida, who was a customer, police said.

Tranchida said he and Biggar had been drinking and using drugs when they got into an argument about her job at the escort service. He also admitted that she learned that he didn't have the money or family connections that he told her that he did.

"I was mad 'cause I got discovered. I was not who I said I was."

Tranchida testified Tuesday he was a customer of Biggar's but wanted her to leave the life of a prostitute.

"I didn't want to lose her," said Tranchida.

He said Tuesday in testimony that Biggar fell while in his residence and hit her head on a safe in the bedroom. But under later questioning by Lane, he said he smothered Biggar in an attempt to stop her from leaving his rented room.

Lane and Warfield repeatedly asked Tranchida if he was being truthful.

Warfield questioned Tranchida's denial that he strangled Biggar noting that the inmate previously gave another parole board member a different version of how she was killed.

Warfield told Tranchida that "I'm not buying" his answers about how Biggar died. 

Tranchida was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced as a habitual offender. Numerous books have been written about Biggar's life, her relationship with Tranchida and her murder.

Tranchida told Lane and Warfield he was a changed man and that he has taken classes for anger management, substance and alcohol abuse and Bible studies.

"I'm not the same person I was 25 years ago," said Tranchida, who apologized to Biggar's family. "I'm sorry I ruined your life. I ruined your daughter's life. I wish I could go back ... give up her life and let her live."

Tranchida said if he is granted release he'll need "a monitor" placed on him to keep him away from temptations.

"This way it will help me stay away from everything not good for me," said Tranchida.

Tranchida, whom Lane said had an extensive prior criminal record and had served previous time in prison, testified Tuesday he found out as an adult when he went to apply for a passport that he was adopted. He also said Tuesday that he has mental issues, prior substance abuse problems and has been raped twice.

A majority of the 10-member Michigan Parole Board has to vote to parole an inmate. A transcript of Tuesday's hearing and a report from Warfield will be distributed to other members of the board in about six weeks, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz said.