Defense: Suspect in Lake Lowell slaying not even at murder scene

Prosecutors say Gregory Higgins Jr. shot James Groat five times, believing him to be an informant.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 11, 2013 

Christopher "Mikey" Duran testified Wednesday that he accompanied Gregory R. Higgins Jr. on Aug. 27 last year to a desolate area near Lake Lowell. There, he watched as Higgins shot his friend and roommate James Groat, 27, and then stomped on Groat several times.

"Are you dead now? Are you dead now?" Higgins asked, Duran told a Canyon County jury.

Duran said he handed Groat a shovel near an abandoned home within eyesight of the lake. Higgins then told Groat to dig a hole and confronted him about being a police drug informant.

"Who do you work for?'" Higgins asked Groat, according to Duran.

"I don't work for anyone," Groat reportedly replied.

Higgins is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and two counts of use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony. Testimony in his two-week trial began Wednesday.

Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Duran told the 3rd District Court jury that he also faces charges - first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and lewd conduct with a minor under 16. He said the prosecution offered to reduce the murder charge to second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against Higgins.

During questioning by Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Monica Morrison, Duran admitted that he initially lied to police about his involvement. He said he came clean after a detective showed him a photograph of Groat after he had been killed, lying face-down with his arms underneath his body.

"I freaked out. I told them I was guilty, that I didn't stop James from being killed," Duran said.

During his opening statement, Higgins' defense attorney, Chuck Peterson, said Duran had a strong motive to kill Groat. He said Duran, 24, had an illegal sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, and Groat knew about the relationship and planned to inform police.

"(Duran) would rather go to prison as a snitch than as a child molester," Peterson said.

Peterson denied Higgins was at the scene of Groat's murder. No fingerprints belonging to Higgins were found in Groat's car, which Peterson said was the vehicle taken to the site. Likewise, no DNA evidence links Higgins to the crime.

Peterson said fingerprints belonging to Duran and Cruz Flores were found in the car. Duran said he had driven Groat's car several times before the killing. He said Flores and Higgins had each driven at least once before, too.

The defense attorney also told the jury of 10 women and four men, including two alternates, that Duran told police two different stories about where the gun came from. Initially, Duran told detectives that Higgins persuaded Groat to give him his weapon, a .38-caliber handgun. Later, he said he obtained the gun from Groat and then gave it to Higgins.

A police officer and a Lake Lowell neighbor each testified that they heard several gunshots shortly after 1 a.m. on Aug. 27. A farm worker found Groat's body later that morning.

Judge Molly Huskey admonished the audience against sharing information about the case with witnesses.

She said she was told after opening statements that someone inside the courtroom shared information about what was said with potential witnesses in a hallway outside.

Huskey said she would bar any future violators from attending the rest of the trial.

Duran has trials scheduled for his charges on July 23-24, according to court records.

Flores was charged with being an accessory to murder, but a judge later sealed Flores' case file and it's unclear whether he is still being prosecuted. No indication was given as to the reason the file was sealed.

John Sowell: 377-6423Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service