Sides rest in Lake Lowell murder trial

Gregory Higgins Jr could face life in prison or death if convicted.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 17, 2013 

Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning in the case of a Nampa man accused of gunning down 27-year-old James Groat last summer.

A 12-member jury - selected from the 10 women and four men who have heard the case since July 10 - is expected to begin deliberations before noon in Canyon County Third District Court.

They will decide whether Gregory Higgins Jr., 33, is guilty of first-degree murder and the use of a deadly weapon. A charge of first-degree kidnapping was dismissed last year.

If convicted, Higgins could have to serve a minimum of 10 years in prison. Another 15 years could be added to his sentence if he's convicted of use of a deadly weapon.

Both the state and the defense rested their cases Tuesday morning.

Higgins' defense attorneys told Judge Molly Huskey that the two witnesses who fingered their client for the shooting death of James Groat were only trying to save themselves.

Defense attorney Chuck Peterson asked Huskey to dismiss the charges against Higgins. He said testimony from Christopher "Mikey" Duran and Cruz Flores, who claimed they were with Higgins when the shooting occurred, was self-serving and unreliable.

"All you have is uncorroborated testimony by accomplices in this case," Peterson said.

The defense request came after Flores testified for the prosecution, saying Higgins was the triggerman.

Monica Morrison, a deputy Canyon County prosecuting attorney, said the testimony against Higgins was credible.

"We have testimony by Mr. Doran and Mr. Flores that the defendant caused the death of Mr. Groat," Morrison told Huskey, who denied the defense motion.

The defense called just four witnesses Tuesday morning.

Sgt. Shawn Naccarato, a criminalist with the Canyon County Sheriff's Office, testified that Higgins' fingerprints were not among those found in Groat's car.

Duran testified last week that he, Groat, Higgins and Flores rode to the murder scene in Groat's car. Fingerprints belonging to Duran and Flores were found in the car.

Higgins chose not to testify on his own behalf. Huskey questioned Higgins outside the jury's presence to make sure he understood he was under no obligation to testify or not testify.

Last week, Duran testified that Higgins shot Groat once in the head and four times in his torso. He said Higgins then kicked Groat several times and asked him "Are you dead now?"

Authorities said the shooting came after Higgins, who was allegedly dealing drugs, accused Groat of being a police informant.

Peterson accused Duran of shooting Groat, his roommate, because Groat knew Duran was having sex with an underage girl and intended to notify police.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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