Shelburne woman jailed for death of daughter

Date: 2004-07-17

Vermont Digest: Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Associated Press

BURLINGTON - A 37-year-old Shelburne woman accused of involuntary manslaughter for the 1998 death of her 3-year-old adopted daughter is headed to prison for a year.

Laura Higginbotham pleaded no contest to the charge in court Friday as part of a plea agreement.

Higginbotham cried quietly as Vermont District Court Judge Ben Joseph sentenced her to four to 10 years in prison. All but one of those years was suspended.

Joseph questioned Higginbotham to make sure she understood the rights she was waiving by pleading no contest and that her admission was voluntary.

When asked if she would like to make a statement, Higginbotham said, "No, thank you" and began to sob.

She was charged in 2001 with the death of her daughter, Logan, nearly three years after the girl died of a massive head injury that caused her brain to swell. Higginbotham had claimed the child fell off a bed and hit her head on a plastic hobby horse.

The case was investigated in 1998, but no charges were filed. Police reopened the case three years later and Higginbotham was charged in May 2001 with involuntary manslaughter.

Higginbotham's attorney, John Pacht, said his client wanted to take the plea agreement because it allowed her to retain custody of her other adopted daughter Layne, now 8. Also, the strain of the past six years has been "overwhelming" for Higginbotham, Pacht added.

Pacht said he understood Higginbotham's desire to plead no contest, but he didn't recommend it.

"This is a case not only where the evidence was weak, but we may very well be dealing with an innocent person," Pacht said. This was a case, he said, "of a very sick child who died tragically."

Chittenden County State's Attorney Robert Simpson, who said the prosecution didn't have better than a "50/50 chance" of winning the case, told the court it was "more important to establish a record that there was a crime and that someone will be held responsible."

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