The sexual abuse case against a former ice cream store owner has been thrown out. According to the Pittsburgh Gazette, 65-year-old David Higginbotham was convicted of sexually abusing two teen girls in 2014. That verdict has been appealed.
The appeal—of a dozen counts, including two counts each of aggravated indecent assault of a child, unlawful contact with a minor and indecent exposure—was based on prosecution testimony from a physician, Jennifer Wolford, who examined the accusers. She testified that the teens didn't show physical injury.
Higginbotham argued that Wolford should not have been called as a rebuttal witness, as the defense didn't bring up the issue about a lack of injuries and thus there was nothing for the prosecution to rebut. The Superior Court agreed, stating that the rebuttal was meant to counter statements made by Higginbotham’s attorney at the time to the media, not to jurors in the courtroom.
“The trial court does not identify which evidence Dr. Wolford’s testimony was admitted to rebut, and it is obvious to this Court that a defense attorney’s statement to the media does not constitute evidence. Furthermore, there is no evidence of record that the jury was even aware of counsel’s media statement,” the decision said. “This clear legal error was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion." The judge added that Wolford's words "unfairly bolstered the victims’ testimony."
In 2013, two young girls (sisters, then-aged 11 and 13) claimed that Higginbotham inappropriately touched them dozens of times over a five-year period. He formerly owned a Handel's ice cream store in McCandless.
The case was to be retried by a new judge but Higginbotham pled guilty to two counts each of unlawful contact with a minor, indecent assault and corruption of a minor. As Trib Live shares, he will serve two years of house arrest (instead of the 20 to 40 years in prison to which he was originally sentenced). He must register as a lifetime sex offender.
[Photo: Dept of Corrections]