Murder charges dropped; Victim’s family calls foul
By Debby Schamber – For the Record
Murder charges are expected to be dropped against Joshua Latham, 27, of Mauriceville, as part of a plea bargain agreement between Latham and the Newton County District Attorney, Courtney Tracy Ponthier.
The trial was to occur on Monday, but instead Latham is expected to plead guilty to jumping bond and tampering with evidence. He could receive 10 years in prison on each charge. The charges are expected to be run concurrently.
The family of the victim, Tami Higgenbotham, 41, of Vinton, La., met with the district attorney, and feels blindsided by the actions taken.
“I think they should take him to trial to let him know that he can’t get away with murder,” said Higgenbotham’s younger sister, Staci Robinson. “Now it’s like it never happened.”
The case stems from an incident when Higgenbotham, left her residence on Feb. 8, 2013 from Vinton to go to Orange. Her truck was found later at Blue Bird’s Fish Camp on Simmons Drive, but she was no where to be found. During the trip to Orange she had texted her sister, saying she was going to sell her phone to Latham.
Higgenbotham wanted to upgrade so she decided to sell her phone. 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 p.m. the texts from Higgenbotham stopped.
Knowing it was odd for her sister since she was “always connected,” Robinson became worried and tried repeatedly to call her, but each call went straight to voice mail.
Robinson later went to the fish camp and showed a picture of her sister to people in the area. They told her they had seen Higgenbotham and she 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. Latham’s girlfriend told Robinson, Latham was at work on the day of the disappearance. However, Robinson later learned he didn’t have a job.
Latham, who was a ‘person of interest” in connection with the disappearance of Higgenbotham fled the area. At the time he was on felony probation, but this did not stop him from fleeing.
He was arrested a few days later on February 14, in Maryville, Tenn. 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 his girlfriend, and their two-week-old infant. The woman and child were reported to be safe. He was held on charges he violated his felony probation. After his return, his probation was extended and he had to serve some time in the Orange County Jail.
Detectives and the Texas Ranger went to Tennessee to interview Latham concerning the disappearance of Higgenbotham. During the interview he reportedly told them where Higgenbotham’s body could be found.
Investigators went in search of the location north of Mauriceville on Feb. 15, 2013 where they found Higgenbotham’s body in a heavily wooded hunting lease in Newton County. Police said there were certain features on the body that matched descriptions of the missing woman. Further testing and autopsy results would reveal it was indeed her.
Dr. Tommy Brown, who conducted the autopsy, said his report the cause of death was asphyxia due to external compression of the neck and the manner of death was homicide. In addition, according to the report, there were two postmortem abrasions on her right forehead area. In spite of this, Robinson would later say as to why the charges were dropped is because Latham’s family had requested autopsies as well. The results were said to be “undetermined.” Even though Brown is known to be very reputable, the DA said this would be a problem when presenting the case.
An indictment was returned by Newton County Grand Jury and Latham was charged with murder in Newton County. But, his extradition would have to wait until he met the requirements with Orange County. Once he returned to Newton County he posted bond and was released.
Latham’s trial was scheduled to start in February, 2015, but when the day came he was nowhere to be found. He had been out on bond when he disappeared. However, he was apprehended in Beauregard Parish in Lousiana by Texas Rangers and local law enforcement. Latham was found in a wooded area behind a residence and taken into custody. He was extradited back to Newton County and held without bond where he remains until sentencing Monday.
“I want him to go to prison for Tami’s murder, ” Robinson said. “It’s just not the same.”
Numerous calls to the Newton County District Attorney were not returned as of press time.
After serving time in the Orange County Jail he was transferred to Newton County where he later posted bond and was released from custody.
The family of Tami Higgenbotham hope to soon see justice served and Latham behind bars where they feel he belongs.