When the Lookout Mountain District Attorney's Office dropped a 20-year-old murder case last year, prosecutors said one reason was that a lead witness had died.
Now, a year later, that supposedly dead witness, Hugh Lonnie Breazeale, has been arrested on suspicion of child molestation. Prosecutors can't explain what happened.
Prosecutors had dredged the case up again in 2007, 15 years after baby Christopher Breazeale died from multiple skull fractures in 1992. Dale Higenbottom, who was 15 at the time of Christopher's death and was having a romantic relationship with Christopher's mom, Tracey, was then charged with murder.
After Higenbottom had exhausted all his appeals last March and his case was headed to trial, District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin unexpectedly dropped the charges.
Franklin said in court documents that prosecutors couldn't pursue the case against Higenbottom because they had proof that a jailhouse snitch had lied and because Breazeale, the father of baby Christopher, was dead.
Now prosecutors can't explain how they misidentified Breazeale as deceased.
"That's news to me," Franklin said Monday over the telephone.
Franklin admitted that the district attorney's office didn't ask for a death certificate upon learning that Breazeale supposedly had died. But he said that was typical in local cases when a state witness dies unexpectedly because "it's usually confirmed easily."
Even with the news, Franklin said it doesn't change Higenbottom's case because Breazeale wasn't at home when Christopher was hurt, and the defense may have tried to point the finger at the person absent from the home.
Higenbottom's attorney, David Dunn, declined to comment on the news.
Breazeale's name first showed up on a Catoosa County Sheriff's Office incident report Friday in connection with four counts of child molestation and one count of aggravated sexual battery.
A sheriff's office report shows that a Chattooga County child services worker reported Breazeale after three underage girls complained they had been molested over a long period of time. The latest alleged incident was around New Year's Day of this year.
Sheriff's detectives arrested Breazeale on Thursday. He is still being held in Catoosa County Jail.
The supervisor on the case, Capt. Chris Lyons, didn't return calls seeking comment.
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 ...