Woman gets 2.5 years for role in niece's abuse death

2014-07-02T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T09:19:07Z Woman gets 2.5 years for role in niece's abuse deathBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The aunt of a toddler who was starved to death was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini sentenced Keshawna Higgins on Monday in connection with a guilty plea to child abuse.

Higgins was the aunt of 22-month old Za’naya Flores, who died in January 2012 after suffering seizures and falling into cardiac arrest after being beaten and starved.

Court records show the child weighed barely 14 pounds when she died.

In addition, Za’naya displayed numerous bruises and other injuries on her body at the time of her death.

Higgins, 28, originally was charged with first-degree murder in the case, along with her sister, Kiyana Higgins, and mother, Clara Huyghue.

She was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charges after authorities learned she was not the primary caregiver for the dead toddler. Another child, Za’naya’s older brother, now 5 years old, also suffered abuse in the house where they lived.

The children’s mother, Kiyana Higgins, and grandmother, Clara Huyghue, still face first-degree-murder charges.

Defense attorney Jacob Amaru asked that Bernini consider only the negligence Keshawna Higgins displayed in not contacting police about the obvious abuse the children had suffered. Amaru said his client denies ever striking or otherwise hurting either child.

“We’re talking about someone punching and hitting a defenseless little kid, and I don’t believe that that’s what she did,” Amaru said.

In a sentencing memorandum, Amaru said his client lacks the cognitive ability to recognize the children were in poor health because she has a low IQ.

In addition to prison, Keshawna Higgins was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929.

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