Shelburne mom charged in child's 1998 death

Date: 2001-05-23

By Emily Stone

A Shelburne woman was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter for the 1998 death of her 3-year-old adopted daughter, Logan.

Laura Higginbotham, 33, pleaded innocent in Vermont District Court to causing Logan's death. The girl died of a massive head injury that caused her brain to swell so much it pushed out of her skull and into her neck. Higginbotham said Logan was bouncing on the bed, fell and hit her head on a hobby horse.

Higginbotham was released on $20,000 bail. Her lawyer said after court that Logan, who was adopted from Russia, had serious medical problems when she arrived here.

"Laura Higginbotham was not responsible, is not responsible, for Logan's death," her attorney, John Pacht, said after the hearing.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Lauren Bowerman would not comment on why the charges were filed 30 months after the girl's death.

The case was investigated in 1998, but no charges were filed. According to court papers, Bowerman asked last year that the case be investigated again, and it was turned over to Detective Mary Puro of the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations in September. Bowerman would not discuss why she requested this. Puro would not comment on the case.

Higginbotham adopted Logan and her younger sister, who is now 4, in May 1998, according to court papers filed by Puro. Higginbotham's custody of her other daughter is the subject of a Family Court case, which is closed to the public.

The girls attended day care together, where workers noticed both often arrived with bruises. Logan was bruised all the time, while her sister had bruises less frequently, the day care workers said. Higginbotham told the day care workers that Logan's sister often hit Logan or pushed her down the stairs.

The day care workers also said Logan would cry at the end of the day when Higginbotham came to pick her up.

"Laura would get angry and yell sharply at her," Puro wrote, quoting one of the day care workers. "She stated that Laura would handle ... (Logan) roughly by dragging her out of the day care."

Nov. 25, 1998, Logan was rushed to the hospital by Shelburne Rescue after Higginbotham reported Logan was having a seizure. Higginbotham said Logan was bouncing on the bed, fell off and hit her head on a plastic hobby horse. Higginbotham told doctors she was not in the room when Logan fell.

Doctors at Fletcher Allen Health Care said they realized immediately that Logan was seriously injured, according to the court papers. Logan was close to brain dead when admitted to the emergency room, doctors said. Her brain swelled so much that the pressure forced her brain down into her brain stem. Doctors operated on her to relieve the swelling. The surgery was unsuccessful and Logan died the next day.

Dr. Steven Wald, the neurosurgeon who operated on Logan, said the extent of the injuries resembled what a child might get from a car crash, not a fall. Experts Puro consulted in Chicago and Atlanta agreed the injury was not caused by a fall from a bed.

Police began investigating the death immediately and sent an officer to Higginbotham's home. The officer noticed a dent in the wall in the hallway outside the girls' bedroom. Higginbotham said the dent was there when she bought the house, or might have occurred when she moved in. The previous owner said there was no dent when he sold the house, according to the court papers.

A neighbor told police Higginbotham said the dent was caused by the stretcher that Shelburne Rescue used when they came to get Logan. The rescue department said they were never on the second floor of the home, where the dent is.

The court papers do not explicitly accuse Higginbotham of causing the dent.

The case was referred to a grand jury last week, which indicted Higginbotham for involuntary manslaughter. It is unusual for the State's Attorney's Office to send a case to a grand jury. Bowerman would not comment on why she decided to handle Higginbotham's case this way. The crime carries a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison.

In court Tuesday, Higginbotham stood quietly as Pacht entered a plea of innocent. She did not speak during the hearing, but cried softly a couple of times.

Outside the courtroom, Pacht said Logan had medical problems, including malnutrition when she arrived in this country. Medical records received from Russia indicate that Logan's biological mother also had medical problems, he said.

Higginbotham has been working hard to get her family back in order after the trauma of Logan's death, Pacht said. The resurfacing of the case and the charges are devastating, he said.

"To have this occur at this time is just as sad as I can imagine," he said. "It makes a tragedy all the more tragic." Contact Emily Stone at 660-1898 or estone@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com -00003

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