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Tyrone rape verdict overturned

The Georgia Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a Sharpsburg man for raping a 16-year-old girl at her Tyrone home in 2005.

The ruling, handed down Monday, determined that Zachary Higgins’ defense attorney erred by failing to object in detail to evidence that may have tainted the jury’s guilty verdict in the March 2009 trial in Fayette County Superior Court.

Defense attorney Steve Harris should have objected to the jury being provided with sentencing details from an unrelated child molestation case in Coweta County Juvenile Court in which Higgins admitted to molesting a 4-year-old girl, according to the court’s ruling.

Because there was evidence presented at trial that the alleged rape encounter was consensual, the appeals court determined Higgins may have been found not guilty if not for the details provided to the jury from the child molestation case.

The victim testified at the trial that Higgins forced her to have oral sex against her will. She also testified that she waited more than two years to report the rape because she was “ashamed” and she couldn’t believe it had happened.

Several other witnesses testified that the victim later bragged about having sex with Higgins. Higgins did not testify, a strategic decision based on the fact that the jury wouldn’t believe him based on him being an admitted child molester, Harris told The Citizen following the trial.

After the jury’s guilty verdict in the case, Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr. sentenced Higgins to 35 years in prison, 25 of which were mandatory per Georgia law on the rape charge.

Higgins, who was 17 at the time of the incident, is now 22 and currently is incarcerated at a Georgia prison facility.

The Court of Appeals noted that Harris had objected generally to the admission of the child molestation case.

Harris, however, should have offered a specific objection when the court allowed a police investigator to read details from the juvenile court child molestation case to the jury, the Court of Appeals ruled.

The Court of Appeals also noted that an unredacted copy of the juvenile court disposition order was published to the jury, allowing jurors to learn that:
• Higgins admitted to molesting the girl;
• Higgins “was in need of treatment and rehabilitation” that would occur while he was on probation for two years;
• Higgins was ordered not to reside in the same household with his 12-year-old sister or any child younger than himself;
• Higgins was ordered to “not be left unsupervised with any children younger than he is,” and
• Higgins was required to attend an outpatient sex offender treatment program.

The fact the disposition order was unredacted was significant because prosecutors had agreed to redact certain elements from the document before publishing it to the jury, according to the Appeals Court ruling.

Higgins was represented on the appellate case by W. Charles Lea of the law firm Garland, Samuel and Loeb.

Lea said today that District Attorney Scott Ballard has indicated he will seek to retry the case.



yellowjax1212's picture

Two teenagers (as of the time of the offense) have what witnesses testify is consensual sex and Ballard pushes rape re-trial.
Superior Court Judge and attorney have sex extramarital sex in a car (surely no conflict of interest there) and Ballard says, no harm - no foul".

Not hatin', just sayin'

Cyclist's picture

testified in a probation revocation hearing on behalf of his friend Jerry Allen - a convicted child molester.

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Surely sounds like a smelly case to me--and a sentence by Caldwell that is overboard, considering the conflicting testimony,which the jury obviously ignored but the Judge doesn't have to when sentencing.

was named Jeff Allen, not Jerry Allen. I don't want someone named Jerry Allen to get the stink-eye from his neighbors. But you're right, Ballard acted as a character witness for a convicted child molester named Jeff Allen because they belonged to the same church. How does he keep getting elected?

It's simple--bringing English down hurts his career because it affects his political ties. Bringing Higgins down helps his career because it's just another notch on his belt. Screw justice--we're talking about a man's popularity here! That's what's important to Ballard, not whether someone is actually guilty or not. It's time to send him packin'..

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

--Edmund Burke

No personal knowledge on this case, but for years we lived in the same subdivision as one of the young ladies who testified at the trial that she was told by the alledged victim (her good friend at the time)the sex was consensual. Knowing this witness and her morals I would find it very hard to believe she would lie on the witness stand under oath. I hope that there is a thorough investigation before a retrial is decided on.

and they scare us!

I didn't sit in on this case (and neither did most of you) but I do know that if a 17 year old boy and a 16 year old girl at, say, McIntosh High had sex (as man, many do) and it was consensual and the girl bragged about it for two years, there would have been no trial ever!
Probation and rehabilitation would have been the most!
These judges want to be reelected! Especially the sentencing one who himself had a problem very similar.
Judges should not be elected but have 5 year appointments that expire.
Maybe we also could find several good appointed citizens to check their principles once in a while?

highflyer2's picture

I said from the get go that this is the FIRST trial I have ever heard of that someone was convicted (and sentenced to 35 years!) on hearsay!
Stop and listen to what I am saying……………….HEARSAY! No DNA, no evidence, no wittiness, no proof what so ever!
I said it before and I will say it again, it scares the HELL out of me when someone can be convicted of a crime when there is no evidence!
“BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” people! The other thing that scares me is that the “jury of his peers” convicted him, kind of makes me want to ask for a judge to hear my case but then again you don’t know if the judge and lawyers are “more” than friends!
I’m not taking either side; I’m just saying that when we can lock up someone for the rest of their lives on HEARSAY, everyone needs to be scared!
Yes, even the “greater than thou” people.

You are pretty much correct except they got the 17 year old boy to plead guilty to molestation! (not consensual sex---molestation).
I sure would like to know why 35 year sentence...What would our judges do with a female school teacher who "molested" several 16 or 17 year old boys?
Must be worth 350 years, at least.
Or, is it different for women?
He should have had some reform school and professional counseling and pick up a ton of trash!

What is the race of these kids?

So, District Attorney Scott Ballard promised the court he'd deliver a redacted copy of Higgins' prior record, but failed to do so? That speaks volumes about the incompetence and lack of integrity of the man. "Anything for a conviction...Johnnie and Pascal have got my back!"

Getting a rape conviction overturned in Georgia is next to impossible, but thanks to the incompetence of Scott Ballard, Higgins will go free.

Of course, since Higgins does not attend Ballard's church, Ballard has announced plans to press charges once again.

ahavah_lachaim's picture

It's amazing to me how common sense failed in this trial. Logic would dictate that a case such as this, with no evidence but a five year late accusation, no DNA, and no witnesses, would have been easily tried and the defendant found innocent.

But because of the egregious double standards of both the judge and D.A., as well as most jurors inability to objectively observe the statute of "guilty beyond all reasonable doubt," the case had the opposite outcome.

One would think, at this point, the D.A. would keeping his head down to avoid being attached to his not-so honorable cronies, but I'm he thinks convicting a "rapist" will help restore his crumbling image as the crusader for justice.

The judge in this case of course could have refused to send it to the jury if he thought there was insufficient evidence.
That is however a very difficult thing to do in Fayette County for many defendants.
The Prosecuting Attorneys seem to NOT bring cases to court unless the accused are guilty, or other special reasons! I have actually heard some say that if they are on trial, they must be guilty of all charges. That of course doesn't apply to elected officials, judges, prosperous citizens, and fellow travelers.
I was on a jury once where a wife sued the VFW for supplying liquor to her alcoholic husband! No one at the VFW said they supplied any---said they didn't own any of it. Well every member of the jury knew that the VFW has liquor and most are welcome to drink some whomever it belongs to---however we found them NOT GUILTY due to lack of evidence in court.
I think that judge also was a VFW member!

If it is retried ... it will certainly need to be moved to another location. How in the world could they find a jury pool not influenced by the amount of information that has been made public?

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