published Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Murder charges dismissed in 19-year-old case

After being denied his last appeal by the Georgia Supreme Court, Dale Higgenbottom was set to go to trial on murder charges for an infant's death 19 years ago.

But after Higgenbottom's attorney filed evidence that showed prosecutors' lead witness wasn't credible, his case was dismissed, authorities said.

Prosecutors filed the motion to dismiss the case on Tuesday in Catoosa County Superior Court, saying there wasn't enough evidence to show Higgenbottom had killed 15-day-old Christopher Breazeale. Judge Brian House dismissed the charges.

"We have always maintained Dale's innocence," said Higgenbottom's attorney, David Dunn. "We're very happy to have that confirmed."

Higgenbottom was officially charged with malice murder, three counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated battery and one count of cruelty to children. All were dismissed.

Prosecutors' key witness was William Morgan, an inmate who had told investigators that Higgenbottom had confessed to the murder while in jail. But the evidence filed in court on Feb. 28 showed Morgan had written a letter to Higgenbottom's family in 2007, saying he could "clear [Higgenbottom] of the [murder] charges" if they would pay his bail money to free him from jail.

"If the letters had come to light prior to the indictment in this case, it is unlikely this case would have been presented to the Catoosa County grand jury," prosecutors wrote in the motion to dismiss.

"Clearly, we couldn't rely on his credibility," said Lookout Mountain Judicial District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin.

Christopher's death was ruled an accident in 1992 after he died of a skull fracture and bleeding to the brain. But the case was reopened in 2007 after prosecutors asked state Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry to review it. Sperry concluded that the findings showed Christopher had died at the hand of someone else. The autopsy also showed his body had bruises that occurred days before the head trauma.

Police interviewed Christopher's mother, Tracey Johnson, his father, Lonnie Breazeale, and Dale Higgenbottom, who had been at the house the night Christopher died, records show.

Each were asked if they had ever hit Christopher or if they knew who had hit him, the motion to dismiss showed. Higgenbottom seemed to show deception in his answers during the polygraph interview, the report states.

Police also discovered there was a relationship between Johnson and Higgenbottom.

In a August interview, Johnson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the baby could have been Higgenbottom's child.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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