Victim's sister outraged as DA prepares to drop charges against murder suspect

Victim's sister outraged as DA prepares to drop charges against murder suspect

Staci Robinson is furious. She is angry because, according to her, if the Newton County District Attorney’s Office has its way, the murder charges pending against the man she believes to be responsible for her sister’s death could soon be dropped.

Robinson’s long journey for justice began Feb. 9, 2013, the day she reported her sister missing.

Robinson went to the Orange Police Department close to noon on that Saturday and told police her sister, 41-year-old Tami Diane Higginbotham, had been missing for about two days, since Feb. 7, 2013. Officer Michael T. Roush filed a missing persons report.

Days later, on Feb. 13, 2013, Orange Police Captain Cliff Hargrave reported Higginbotham was still missing. In a news release that day, he stated that the missing woman was a white female, approximately 5-foot-2 and 120 pounds from Vinton, Louisiana. The news release indicated she was last seen Feb. 8 at approximately 12:30 p.m. and was en route to Orange. Her vehicle was later discovered at Bluebird Fish Camp on Simmons Drive in Orange.

Later the same day, police reported they were searching for a person of interest in Higginbotham’s disappearance, then-26-year-old Joshua Latham, a man with a criminal history including arrests for theft, possession of marijuana and reckless driving, according to a criminal database search.

At the time, Orange police said Latham was wanted for a felony probation violation out of Orange County. Police say he is from Mauriceville and lived in Orange when Higginbotham disappeared. It was later revealed the two were meeting at Bluebird Fish Camp because she was selling Latham her old cell phone.

Robinson’s search for her sister ended in tragedy after Higginbotham’s body was discovered Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. Officers had picked up Latham in Maryville, Tennessee the preceding day, Valentine’s Day 2013, and he had reportedly led them to the location where they found the body. Higginbotham was found north of Mauriceville in a heavily wooded hunting lease in Newton County.

Latham was held on the felony probation violation for some time, and months later, on July 18, 2013, he was indicted in Higginbotham’s murder.

“Joshua D. Latham … on or about the 8th day of February, A.D. 2013 … did then and there, intentionally or knowingly cause the death of … Tami D. Higginbotham, by strangling her with his hands or an unknown object,” reads the indictment.

Latham’s bond was set at $125,000 on the murder charge.

At last, Staci Robinson thought, she would have justice for her sister.

This week, all that changed, she said.

“The trial was supposed to be that morning,” Robinson said Aug. 18. “I got a call from the Newton County District Attorney Courtney Tracy Ponthier. She told me that they were thinking of dropping the murder charge and letting him plea to two lesser charges that would carry 10-year sentences each.”

The DA reportedly told her that there was not enough evidence to be sure Latham would be convicted of her sister’s murder, but said they had convinced him to plea to tampering with evidence and jumping bond. Latham had been picked up in Tennessee after fleeing in spite of being on felony probation and then jumped bond in February 2015, presumably in order to dodge his court date then. He was picked up in Louisiana and extradited to Newton County where he has been held since.

Robinson said she feels there is plenty of evidence for prosecutors to convict Latham of murder.

“She’s not being honest with us,” she said of Ponthier. “She’s not being honest at all. When they picked (Latham) up, he tried to say the Aryan Brotherhood killed Tami. Then, he said it was someone else. Finally, they charged him. Why not try him? I want him to be held accountable for what he did to my sister.”

Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough said he was surprised the charges against Latham may be dropped. He said that Latham is still in trouble in Orange County for the felony probation violation he was arrested on while investigators searched for Higginbotham. He said if the murder charges against Latham are dropped, his office would make sure Latham faces the consequences for violating his probation.

“He would have to serve prison time,” Kimbrough said, “although not as much as he would for murder.”

Calls to Ponthier were not returned, and her office would not comment regarding the situation.

The Newton County District Clerk’s office said the murder case against Latham has not yet been dropped and is still pending in its system as of Aug. 18. They had no information pertaining to the potential plea agreement that would get him off the hook for murder charges.

Robinson said she has filed a complaint against the Newton County district attorney with the Texas Bar Association Ethics Committee.