published Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Georgia seeks justice for infant slain in 1992

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Dale Higgenbottom's trial could be scheduled in the next Catoosa County jury trial calendar, which begins in March.

Early next year, a North Georgia jury will hear details about a night 19 years ago when an infant suffered a fatal skull fracture at the hands of someone in his family's home.

When Christopher Breazeale died in 1992, the case was classified as an accident and left closed for 15 years, but now prosecutors say the medical examiner was wrong. Someone murdered the 15-day-old boy that night, they say.

And a secret that was buried with Christopher -- until now -- may have been the motive behind the killing.

Tracey Breazeale, Christopher's mother, said she never saw anything happen. However, she told police at the time that the infant's 4-year-old, developmentally disabled sister, Amy, must have tried to hold the baby but dropped him on the concrete floor of the family's apartment in a Ringgold, Ga., public housing project.

Lonnie Breazeale, the baby's father, was at work when the injuries occurred. But he told police it was possible; his daughter was strong and had an unruly temper.

Dale Higgenbottom, a 15-year-old boy and family friend, had spent the night. He said he didn't see anything either.

So investigators agreed. It was an accident. The case was closed. The papers were signed. And, after the sadness, life went on.

Amy was sent to a home for the mentally disabled in Alabama. Lonnie and Tracey Breazeale divorced, and later they both remarried.

Higgenbottom grew up, got married, worked at a sign company and had a son.

But one child abuse investigator always felt that something about the explanation wasn't right, and she never forgot.

Years later, those doubts came bubbling to the surface. In 2007, Higgenbottom was charged with murdering Christopher.

He was arrested but released on bond a short time later and has been fighting the case in the four years since.

Higgenbottom's family says his life has been ruined by the charges, which they call unfounded and cruel after all this time. Christopher's mother, Tracey Breazeale, says she will never believe that Higgenbottom could have been responsible.

Higgenbottom declined to talk about the case and so did his lawyer, public defender David Dunn.

"They're doing something they don't have no business doing ... he's a good, kind-hearted person," said Virginia Roach, Higgenbottom's sister. "He wouldn't have hurt him [Christopher] in any way whatsoever."

One of Higgenbottom's last hopes to avoid a trial disappeared Nov. 29 when the Georgia Supreme Court denied his appeal.

In the spring of 2007, not long after Tracey Breazeale had remarried, two men in suits knocked on the front door of her small home at the top of a steep dirt road in Ringgold.

The men asked her to come outside and then asked her to come to the police station because they needed to talk to her about how she could help prevent child abuse.

Once they got her to the station, they broke the news: Christopher's case was being reopened, 15 years after his death, and this time they were calling it a murder.

She was told that Vicki Scoggins, a state child abuse investigator assigned at the time of Christopher's death, now was working in the district attorney's office as a victim witness coordinator.

Scoggins pushed to get the case re-examined. Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia Bureau of Investigation's chief medical examiner, reviewed the autopsy report and decided that he had made a mistake when he signed and approved it in the early '90s.

"The manner of death of this child should have been classified as 'homicide,'" he wrote in a letter to the district attorney's office.

The medical examiner who had performed the actual autopsy, Dr. Floyd James, since had died and couldn't testify about his conclusions.

So the officers asked Tracey Breazeale if there was anything she wanted to tell them. Had she ever been mean to her kids? Had she ever beaten her kids or let anyone else beat them? They asked about a time that a neighbor said she had seen Higgenbottom spank her oldest son for riding his bike in the road. The Department of Family and Children Services had been called out.

They asked her if Higgenbottom could have killed her son.

"There's no way he done that to the baby," she said she told the police officers. "My daughter done it. ... She's very big. She could get in the bassinet and get him out."

But investigators said they didn't believe Amy was big enough to lift a 7-pound baby and drop him with the amount of force that killed him. They followed with a question that threw her off.

Had she been romantic with Higgenbottom, even though she had been 22 and married at the time and he was only 15?

Hadn't Christopher been Higgenbottom's son?

No, she said.

She lied.

On the night before he died, Christopher had fussed all night, Tracey Breazeale said.

Higgenbottom and Tracey Breazeale watched television together while she rocked the sick baby. Lonnie Breazeale slept in the bedroom nearby, she said.

When it was almost morning, Tracey Breazeale laid the baby down and went to bed, she said. Not long after, Lonnie Breazeale left for his grocery store job at 5:40 a.m.

At 11 a.m., Tracey Breazeale woke up to her son Brandon holding Christopher. Part of the baby's face, near his forehead, was sunken inward.

"Momma, Amy had the baby," Tracey Breazeale said he told her. She called authorities and emergency crews took the baby. Eight hours later he was declared dead at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital.

Johnny Gass, a first responder to the scene who is now a Catoosa County magistrate, said he carried the baby to the ambulance. He didn't sense any foul play, he said in an interview Friday.

The autopsy report showed that Christopher died of a skull fracture and blood clots on the left side of his brain. But older bruises on the right and left side of his forehead and on his ears also were noted, documents show.

Initially, doctors told Scoggins the injuries couldn't have been inflicted by a 4-year-old girl. She agreed.

But when the autopsy came back with the finding that the death was accidental, they had to close the case, she said Friday in an interview. The family blamed Amy, but the girl's age made it hard to test their story.

"It really bothered me that the other child was accused," Scoggins said. "She would go through life with everyone treating her as if she caused that death. No one, other than the family, thought that."

Investigations were conducted differently in 1992. Authorities didn't have the knowledge they have today, she said. So, more than a decade later, she asked the district attorney to reopen the case.

Tracey Breazeale was unhappy in her marriage with three young children. Amy was temperamental and demanding. Lonnie Breazeale was always gone, working, and she liked the attention of the teenager who lived a few apartments over, she said.

The affair with Higgenbottom went on for 11 months, and Lonnie Breazeale never knew. He didn't ask questions about why Higgenbottom would stay so late and need to sleep over. He didn't hesitate to leave them home alone when he went to work. He took Higgenbottom fishing. He called him a friend.

"Christopher could be his," Tracey Breazeale said in an August interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It was the first time she had acknowledged publicly that Higgenbottom might have been Christopher's father. "I don't want it to be, but it could be."

And that was Higgenbottom's motive, she said investigators told her.

"That's why they are accusing Dale. They are saying he was young and didn't want to settle down," she said.

Tracey Breazeale was always afraid of what people would think if they knew about the affair, which legally could have constituted statutory rape or child molestation.

She didn't want people to doubt what kind of a woman she was or what kind of a man Higgenbottom was.

In a closet, she keeps a shoe box that holds two of Christopher's baby blankets. There is a picture of him wearing a shirt with the words "A Beary Special Baby" written on it, and a pair of shoes. The family made a drawing of the picture for her oldest son to copy for a tattoo.

"One day you're this happy person with this newborn, and then you turn around two weeks later, and the newborn is gone," she said. "I blame myself all the time, I really do. I know I didn't do it, but I blame myself for it."

Higgenbottom was taken in for questioning in the summer of 2007. Cooped up in a room for hours, he was grilled about Christopher.

When investigators finally let him go, Higgenbottom went to his sister's house, walked through the door and fell on the floor.

His sister, Virginia Roach, said he told her they had showed him photos of Christopher's bruised face and head.

"He came home, and he couldn't eat or sleep for weeks. He was so tore up," Roach said. "Then they came back two or four times to take a polygraph test."

That August their brother was arrested, charged with malice murder, three counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated battery and one count of cruelty to children.

His boss put up the $100,000 bond and got him out of jail in early September.

The case has dragged on ever since. He filed appeals all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, claiming that the case violated his right to a speedy trial.

Now that the high court has rejected his appeal, Higgenbottom's murder trial looms.

Alan Norton, a prosecutor from the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, said prosecutors are going to have to build their case by explaining what new evidence justifies bringing charges 19 years after the fact.

But he wouldn't say what new evidence they have.

Court documents filed by Higgenbottom's attorney say the state didn't preserve vital evidence -- X-ray photographs, original autopsy photographs and physical specimens -- and that the case is too cold to prosecute.

They also want to know why, if a caseworker had such strong suspicions about Christopher's death, the state waited 192 months to do anything about it.

Everyone is waiting for answers.

"We're all torn up from it," Roach said. "I wish they'd leave him alone."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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Lr103 said...

@"That's why they are accusing Dale. They are saying he was young and didn't want to settle down," she said

The above statement doesn't make sense, and certainly is not a basis for charging someoen with such a serious crime. First of all, why would Higginbotham have to worry about having to settle down when the mother was already married and her husband accepted the baby as his. The mother would have been in more trouble, and had more reason to kill the child if the baby proved to be the offspring of a 15yr. old. Not that I believe the mother actually had anything to do with the death of her child. I believe the original report___It was simply a trafic and unfortunate accident*/'Nuf Said.

Believe me when I say as a parent who has raised children, a four year old certainly is capable of picking up a 70lb infant. Heck! A four year old can even pick up another four or five year old.

This statement makes more sense and is more likely: @"Momma, Amy had the baby,"

December 11, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
potcat said...

Vicki Scroggins is a dangerous person to the public she serves. This actually is not that unusual with these positions. Scroggins, at the time of this childs death was a state child abuse investigator and now works in the district attorney's office as a victim witness coordinator.

The newspapper must stay on top of this, and even get other media and Professionals to help Dale Higgenbottom stay off death row, and protected from this Psychopath Scroggins.

December 11, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.
MALAMUTE21 said...


December 11, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
Lr103 said...

potcat said... Vicki Scroggins is a dangerous person to the public she serves. This actually is not that unusual with these positions. Scroggins, at the time of this childs death was a state child abuse investigator and now works in the district attorney's office as a victim witness coordinator.

I believe you! I young and then pregnant mother I befriended years ago had a nerous breakdown after being hounded by Georgia DEFACS investing her for child neglect when a jealous neigbor or her ex-husband's girlfriend made an anonymous phone call to report her other two children were digging in dumpsters and knocking on neighbors doors asking for food. This is how simple it is to fall under the scrutiny of being labeled a child abuser or neglectful parent In all too many cases all it takes is an anonymous phone call from a vindictive neighbor or an ex's girlfriend, boyfriend or new spouse, and a life can be forever ruined. The only way that mother was able to get away from the situation was one of the caseworkers advised her to leave the state altogether.

This is a witchunt of the very worse kind.

December 11, 2011 at 1:49 p.m.
Lr103 said...


Because new evidence isn't necessarily new evidence just because someone say so. Do you really believe Scoggins went to such pains to reopen this case only to say Oh! We made a mistake...this was an accident after all? Apparently, you haven't read about the level of prosecutorial misconduct that has been going on around the nation for quite sometime now. Where prosecutors have actually lied, had expert witnesses to lie and perjure themselves on the witness stand in order to obtain a conviction. The levels are alarming. If Scoggins went to such lengths to get this case reopened, I'll bet everything I own she'll likely go to further lengths to get a conviction.

btw--old bruises on the forehead, could mean anything. they could have taken place at the time of birth and if forceps may have been used. dah!

December 11, 2011 at 2 p.m.
ltb said...

They probably have the same type so called "evidence" they had on Tonya Craft.

December 11, 2011 at 5:27 p.m.

If Scoggins felt something wasn't right 19 years ago she should be held responsible for not doing her job at that time. One can't help but wonder how many other times she has done this exact thing. She either disregarded doing her job at the time or is now making accusations without having all of the facts and any evidence. She shouldn't be allowed to do this without facing some sort of consequences herself. Now 19 years later and without having all of the supporting evidence needed, they cannot prove either guilt or innocence. They need to leave this poor family alone. This family will live the rest of their lives knowing a child was lost and faces this each and every day of their lives. Unfortunately Amy seems to have many issues and could have tossed around a 15 day old baby. What about Brandon? He was a child himself and it seems no one has thought about him - he lives with this every day as well. Bottom line without the necessary evidence no one will ever truly know the truth and for that reason, this needs to be dropped. We can't judge the family based on Scoggins "feelings". The law isn't based on "feelings" but is based on facts and truth.................

December 12, 2011 at 9:46 p.m.

Dale is a wonderful man, he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. God would have already served him justice if he was guilty. It sounds like vicki needs to be worrying more about child abuse that is going on NOW all around GA, rather than something that was CLOSED 19 years ago!!

December 13, 2011 at 12:24 a.m.

We can't judge the family based on Scoggins "feelings". The law isn't based on "feelings" but is based on facts and truth.................


December 13, 2011 at 12:26 a.m.
jctroach said...

As a life long resident in Ringgold, I feel like the DFACS of yesteryear is CRAP! My mother BEAT me in the street with a belt buckle and when HELP came, they sent my DRUNK mother home and me to a friends house. The outcome with DFACS was a $120 visit to a councilor at my parent's cost. The case was closed and that was that. It make's me sick that some STUPID lady wants to cry out she has been dealing with doubt with this case for so many years. It was around this sametime that my mother was mistreating me, I don't see this lady beating down my door with justice for me! Now we are going to drag this man's name through the mud for a HUNTCH? Sickining it is. How can you be charged for 3 counts of murder for one death? As for bruises, this was a 15 day old baby? How did the birth of this child go? Was it normal? Was there any brusing from the birth? Sounds like the water is just too murky for anyone to be pointing fingers now. GOOD JOB DFACS, treading backwards! We are talking about a boy who was 15 at the time? Wouldn't he be charged as a minor for this? I say let the law do their job but that is so simple to say here in Catoosa County. Bless the poor child that lost his life. God has him in his arms and no matter the case now, May he rest in peace.

December 13, 2011 at 7 p.m.
VictoriaSA said...

For the sake of both families, I hope that the case finds closure. Opening up of cold cases are not very common, but this one really begs the question of why DNA tests were not done to prove whether Higgenbottom was the child's father, and why the case was only opened up after so long.

Simon -

May 14, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.
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