Tami Higgenbotham’s family rejoices

Debby Schamber – For The Record

A hearing on Thursday and Friday for a motion to impose guilt finally has 29-year-old Joshua David Latham, of Mauriceville, going to prison. He was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 20 years and it will run consecutively to his five year term he recently received in Newton County for failure to appear. 

Although this case was not for the murder of Tami Higgenbotham, 41, of Vinton, her family was elated to see some sort of justice served. Latham’s numerous violations on the terms of his probation for the second degree felony of burglary of habitation caused his probation to be revoked.

Latham’s eyes filled with tears as Judge Dennis Powell told the defendant the charge was “true” that he knowingly and willingly caused the death of Tami Higgenbotham.

“We were jubilant to hear the judge say that he is guilty of murder,” said Bill Maudlin. ‘We haven’t smiled in three years, but, we can smile now.”

Other charges the judge said were true was Latham failed to submit to a urinary analysis as required, did not report to the probation department, left Texas without consent from the probation department among other violations. However, the judge did not find the driving while license suspended to be true or the charge of failure to provide a change of address.

Orange County District Attorney Krispen Walker said she could not have done so well if it weren’t for her team of investigators.

“They worked hard on this case and handed it to me in a gift box,” Walker said. “This is a day that makes me feel so blessed and humbled to be a prosecutor.”

The maximum sentence along with the $10,000 fine said to Walker,” the judge believed in the case.”

Staci Robinson, Tami’s sister, said they were finally being treated in Orange County like “this was a real case.”

In Newton County, the district attorney dropped the murder charge and only charged Latham with failure to appear. Defense attorney, Dennis Horn, stated Latham failed to appear for the murder trial because he was “scared” and wanted to “spend more time with his family.”

Latham was discovered three days after he failed to appear by a team of officers behind a residence in Louisiana. He was dressed in camoflauge and covered in mud in a “wooded, swampy” area, according to Texas Ranger Bobby Smith.

The case began in February 2013 when Higgenbotham left her Louisiana residence and headed to Orange.  During the trip to Orange she texted her sister, saying she was going to sell her phone to Latham. Higgenbotham wanted to upgrade her phone so she had decided to sell hers.

Around 1 p.m. Higgenbotham sent a text to her sister saying Latham wanted her to help him pick out wedding rings. By 1:30 the texts from Higgenbotham stopped.Knowing it was odd for her sister since she was “always connected”, Robinson became worried and tried over and over to call her but each call went straight to voice mail.

Robinson wondered what had happened to her and the pickup truck she had been driving was later found at Blue Bird’s Fish Camp on Simmons Drive.  But, Tami was nowhere to be found.

Robinson showed a picture of her sister to people in the area. They said Higgenbotham had gotten into a vehicle with Latham. However, when Robinson asked Latham if he had seen her sister, he denied ever meeting up with her. He also told police the same story. Although, it was later proven he was at a local convenience store with Higgenbotham when investigators reviewed the video.

Latham, who was wanted in connection with the disappearance of Higginbotham, was arrested in Maryville, Tn. Orange police contacted local officials in Maryville, and told them Latham had relatives in the area. Maryville police checked the relative’s residence, and found Latham, along with Dusti and their two-week-old infant. He was held on charges he violated his probation and later transferred back to Orange.

During the two hour interview with police, Latham told several different stories on his involvement with the case. First he said he never met up with her and after he was told of the video he changed his story to they went to someone’s house and when a person assaulted Tami, he left the area. He also said they went to a cemetery, a convenience store and a residence in Buna.  Latham also devised a story about a man, “Ted” who pulled a gun on them and beat Tami. Latham also said a gang killed Tami. Finally, he said Tami had done drugs and started convulsing and died. Later in the hearing, Dr. Tommy Brown, would testify there was not a lethal amount of drugs in Tami’s system.

“When confronted with the details, his story would take another direction,” said Texas Ranger Bobby Smith when asked about the many stories Latham told investigators.

Eventually, Latham told police where Higgenbotham’s body could be found. From his directions, she was found laying face down in a heavily wooded area within a hunting lease which was about 3.5 miles off of Highway 62.

During the hearing, it was demonstrated by Walker and Chief Investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, KC. Breshears, how the body is believed to have been placed at that location.

 Dr. Tommy Brown, stated the cause of death was asphyxia due to external compression of the neck and the manner of death was homicide. In addition, he testified there were two post mortem abrasions on her right forehead area. However, a bruise on the right side of her neck was before death.

“She was hit on the head a few times,” Brown said.

During the hearing, autopsy photos were admitted into evidence. Some people left the courtroom. While Dr. Brown described what was on the screen, Latham would keep his head down somewhat, but was seen looking his eyes upward at the photos.

Defense attorney, Eric Peveto, called one witness to the stand. It was Spark Veazy III. He stated that although he agreed Higgenbotham suffered trauma to the head, he believed the cause of death was “not strangulation” but instead was “multiple drug intoxication.” In addition, he thought the amount of blockage to her heart was a “precipice to her death.” During his testimony, Walker was able to get him to admit sometimes he disagrees with colleagues and sometimes is incorrect in his statements.

“Dr. Veazy, although very accomplished, Dr. Brown was right,” Walker said. “From day one I have had extreme confidence in Dr. Brown.”

The family of Tami Higgenbotham intends to keep a watchful eye on this case and plans to write the parole board many times. They want Latham to serve as much of the 25 years in prison as possible. They hope the case will go to trial in Newton County on the murder charges but know it will take a new district attorney in Newton County for that to come true.