Higgins convicted of Lake Lowell murder

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 19, 2013 

Gregory Raymond Higgins Jr.

— Gregory Higgins Jr. could face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a Canyon County jury found him guilty this afternoon of last summer’s shooting death of 27-year-old James Groat near Lake Lowell in Nampa.

The 12-member jury deliberated over parts of three days before reaching a unanimous decision that Higgins shot Groat once in the head and four times in the torso after accusing the victim of being a police drug informant.

“We’re obviously very happy with the decision,” said Casey Hemmer, a deputy Canyon County prosecutor who handled the case with fellow deputy prosecutor Monica Morrison.

He said Groat’s family was relieved by the verdict and it will serve as another step in bringing them closure from Groat’s death on Aug. 27, 2012.

“It gives them a sense of relief and a sense of justice,” Hemmer said.

After the verdict was announced, the jury was asked to deliberate on a second charge of use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony. Higgins was also found guilty of that crime.

Higgins could face up to life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 30 by Third District Judge Molly Huskey. The dangerous weapon could bring an added 15 years to the sentence.

Defense attorney Chuck Peterson, who along with his daughter Courtney Peterson, defended Higgins, was not immediately available for comment.

The jury apparently believed the testimony of co-defendants Christopher “Mikey” Duran and Cruz Flores. They testified that they road to the deserted location with Groat and Higgins. They said they watched as Higgins shot Groat while they did nothing to stop their friend and roommate from being murdered.

Groat was lured to the spot under the guise of serving as a backup for Higgins during a drug deal. Instead, it was a setup in which Duran testified that he understood that Groat would not leave the scene alive.

Duran testified that after Groat was shot, Higgins humiliated him further by stomping him several times with his shoes while yelling “Are you dead yet?”

Chuck Peterson argued that Higgins wasn’t even present at the murder scene. He accused Duran and Flores of setting up his client by picking him up at his home after the murder and going to a fast food restaurant, where their presence was videotaped.

Peterson claimed that Duran had a motive for the killing because Groat knew he was having an illegal sexual relationship with an underage girl and planned to notify police.

The prosecution pointed to a text message Higgins sent to Duran’s phone after the murder telling him to erase all of his text messages. That tied Higgins to the murder, Morriosn argued.

Duran, who is also charged with first-degree murder, is scheduled to go to trial on Wednesday. During Higgins’ trial, it was revealed that the prosecution offered to reduce his charge to second-degree murder if he testified against Higgins. Even if he accepts that offer, he could still receive up to life in prison.

Morrison and Hemmer will also handle the prosecution of that case. It will be Hemmer’s last case for Canyon County. He has accepted a position as an assistant attorney general with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office.

Flores was charged with being an accessory to murder. A judge later sealed that file without explanation and no information on the case is available from the online state criminal court repository. However, a listing on the Canyon County Jail roster said he is being held on aiding and abetting a murder.

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