Higgins pleads guilty after winning new trial, will serve 3 years for cruelty

A Sharpsburg man who successfully appealed his 2009 rape conviction has pled guilty to one felony count of cruelty to children in connection with the same case.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped felony charges of rape and aggravated sodomy that had been filed against Zachary Hume Higgins, 24.

Higgins entered a negotiated guilty plea in court Monday and will serve three years in prison followed by 12 months of house arrest and 17 years probation, according to Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard. Higgins must also register as a sex offender and must undergo a psychological evaluation and seek treatment if necessary, Ballard added.

The victim was 16 at the time of the incident; Higgins was 17. The incident occurred at the victim’s home though her parents were not present at the time.

The victim testified in the initial trial that she waited more than two years to report the rape because she was “ashamed” and she couldn’t believe it had happened.

Several other witnesses testified that the victim later bragged about having sex with Higgins.

Higgins was initially convicted of the charges in March 2009 and was sentenced to 35 years in prison, 25 of which were mandatory per Georgia law on the rape charge. The conviction was overturned in July 2010 by the Georgia Court of Appeals, which determined that Higgins’ defense attorney erred by failing to object in detail to evidence that may have tainted the jury’s guilty verdict.

The attorney should have objected to the jury being provided with sentencing details from an unrelated child molestation case in Coweta County Juvenile Court in which Higgins admitted to molesting a 4-year-old girl, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.

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