In 2008, Higgins was found guilty in Fayette County Court of raping a former co-worker several years earlier. According to the victim, Higgins, with whom she worked at a local pizza parlor, came to her house one night in 2005. The two watched television, started kissing and then — so she'd later tell police — Higgins forced himself on her.
Despite the fact that several witnesses testified that the alleged victim had talked about her encounter with Higgins as though it was consensual on several occasions (one witnesses agreed that the victim had bragged about it), Higgins was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
What attorneys believe destroyed Higgins' defense was that jurors were permitted to hear evidence that Higgins was convicted of child molestation in juvenile court when he was 14 years old. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction based on the fact that his defense attorney failed to object to the State's submission of that evidence.
According to attorney Charles Lea (who is currently representing Higgins, but wasn't at the time of his trial), the real problem wasn't Higgins' defense counsel, but rather the way in which evidence is permitted to be used to prove a so-called "similar transaction." Basically, the law says that similar criminal convictions cannot be used to prove that if a defendant committed a crime once, they'd do it again, but can be used to demonstrate a defendant's "bent of mind."
"It's a lot of mental gymnastics," Lea says.
"They tell the jury they can't consider [the evidence of his juvenile court conviction] to say, 'If he did it once, he'd do it again,' but they can use it to show his 'lustful disposition.' It’s such gymnastics, and it’s so out of control. In my opinion in this case, something transpired in juvenile court, but using the evidence in this case and this case alone, you would never convict him."
Since the Court of Appeals announced the reversal, the Fayette County District Attorney's office has opposed bond and says it intends to retry the case.
"There were a host of very serious errors [in the original trial] that had nothing to do with similar transaction evidence," says Lea. "We believe at a new trial he will be successful."
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