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Clay daycare sex abuse trial begins

By Scott Buttram

BIRMINGHAM — Attorneys for the prosecution and defense painted two very different pictures during opening statements of the trial of Eric Higdon, the teenager charged with sexual abuse of minors at a Clay daycare.

Higdon, 19, was charged with sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old and two counts of first-degree sodomy with a victim less than 12 years old. Higdon has been free on a $150,000 bond since his arrest in August 2012.

The arrest was a result of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at Mama’s Place Christian Academy in Clay.

District attorney Carlos Gonzalez told jurors the trial was about three children and their loss of innocence while defense attorney Charles Salvagio said the case was all about “big money.”

Eric Lemont Higdon
photo courtesy of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office

Salvagio said the accusations came from children of parents who owed the daycare money and only came after an attorney was hired to collect the money. The mother of one of the victims disagreed when she testified, saying she only owed $400.

The mother of one of the victims, a first-grader, testified that she called police after witnessing inappropriate touching between her son and his sister.

“I saw him touch his sister and just thought it was curiosity,” she said. “Then it happened again.”

The mother said that when the second incident occurred she asked her son where he had learned the behavior.

“He said Eric from the daycare taught him,” she said.

Under cross examination, the mother said she owed the daycare some money, but not what she would call a “large sum.”

All three children testified, but did not make any direct accusations or offer details of the events. The third alleged victim responded “yes” when asked by Gonzalez if “something bad happened.” When pressed further, the child said he was trying to remember, but left the stand without offering any further details of the events.

Mary Beth Thomas, clinical director of the Prescott House Child Advocacy Center, testified that she interviewed the children in August 2012. She told Gonzalez that the interviews led to the recommendation for criminal prosecution.

Prosecutors presented two videos in the afternoon session of Thomas’ interviews with two of the alleged victims. In the video, the children gave a graphic description of the events they said took place.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday, weather permitting, in Judge Teresa Pulliam’s courtroom in the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center.

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