STEUBENVILLE - Mark P. Higgins Jr., 27, was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson after a jury convicted Higgins of two counts of raping an 8-year-old girl in April 2011.
County Assistant Prosecutor Jeffrey Bruzzese said Higgins forcibly pulled the girl's pants down and then used threats to try to conceal the crime. Bruzzese believes there were more acts of sexual abuse than those contained in the indictment.
There was some confusion as to how Higgins would be sentenced. Two sections of state law cover child rape, with one being 15 years to life and the other life without parole.
LIFE SENTENCE — Mark P. Higgins Jr., 27, listens to proceedings Monday in a Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. Higgins was sentenced to life in prison without parole after a jury convicted him of two counts of rape of a child under the age of 10. - Mark Law
Henderson said there is no guidance in state statutes as to the sentencing. The judge said he imposed the sentence listed under the section for which Higgins was indicted. The other sentence could have been doubled - for two counts - for 30 years to life.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department was notified by Eastern Ohio Regional Hospital in April 2011 about a child brought there who was suspected of being sexually abused. The investigation led to Higgins, and deputies were heading to his home to arrest him when Higgins fled. Higgins was apprehended by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in Mount Pleasant the next day.
Defense attorney Steven Stickles said there is disparity in the sentencing for a child rapist. He said a person convicted of murder can someday be paroled.
Stickles said the victim will not forget what happened but he hopes she can move on with her life.
"I'm asking the court to give Mr. Higgins a chance," Stickles said. "He should be afforded the opportunity to be rehabilitated and prove he can be a member of society. I'm asking merely that he be given a chance to prove that to the parole board, provided he makes it that far."
Bruzzese countered, saying, "(Higgins) has already proven he can't be a productive member of society. Unfortunately, the death sentence is not an option. He is worse than a murderer. The hurt will never go away."
Bruzzese read a handwritten letter from the young victim. "It is bad what you did to me. You are sick in the head," the girl wrote.
Higgins told Henderson, "I apologize for my actions ... the way I have been all my life. I can change if given a chance."
Henderson disagreed, saying," Although you said you are sorry to the court. I do not see any genuine remorse."
A videotaped confession made by Higgins to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla was played to the jury during the trial.
Abdalla said he was pleased with the Higgins' sentence.
"That is where he deserves to be."
(Law can be contacted at email@example.com.)