The attorneys for two women charged with child abuse in the death of a 21-month-old girl who starved to death have asked the judge to dismiss the case. They allege prosecutors engaged in misconduct while presenting the case to a Pima County grand jury.
Kiyana Higgins, 23, Keshawna Higgins, 25, and Clara Huyghue, 53, were indicted in January on second-degree murder and child abuse charges in the death of Kiyana Higgins' daughter, Za'Naya Flores.
Za'Naya weighed 14.6 pounds when she was rushed to the hospital after going into seizures and cardiac arrest on Jan. 12.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini dropped the murder charges against the defendants in mid-February at the request of prosecutors, who stated they intend to seek a first-degree murder indictment against the defendants instead.
Defense attorneys Jacob Amaru and Greg Kuykendall have filed court documents indicating they believe the judge should dismiss the entire case against Keshawna Higgins and Clara Huyghue. Keshawna Higgins was Za'Naya's aunt; Huyghue was her grandmother.
Both attorneys believe prosecutor Susan Eazer misled grand jurors by telling them all three adults "shared" responsibility for Za'Naya, when, in fact, Huyghue worked long hours as a nurse and rarely saw the Higgins children awake and Keshawna Higgins was at the home only on a "limited basis."
The defense attorneys also complain the prosecutor created a bias against their clients by telling grand jurors about Kiyana Higgins' past dealings with CPS.
Because the grand jurors knew Kiyana Higgins had been accused of abuse in the past, Kuykendall said the grand jurors likely thought Huyghue must be a "bad person" for allowing her grandchildren to remain in her daughter's care.
Kuykendall is also displeased Eazer showed grand jurors pictures of Za'Naya when they'd already been given a description of her. The only purpose to do so was to inflame them, he said.
Both defense attorneys believe Eazer and fellow prosecutor Nicol Green gave faulty instructions to the grand jurors as to the law.
"The flaws in the grand jury proceedings rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct, not simply a denial of defendant's right to a fair and impartial presentation of the evidence, and therefore warrant dismissing the indictment with prejudice," Kuykendall said.
Eazer said there is no merit to the motions and a written response will be filed this week. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday.
Kiyana Higgins' four surviving children are in CPS custody.
Both Higgins and Huyghue remain in custody at the Pima County jail.
The father of all five of Kiyana Higgins' children, Francisco Jose Flores, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in September 2010 after pleading guilty to aggravated domestic violence.
According to court records, Flores slashed Kiyanna Higgins' arms with a folding knife on two separate occasions and choked her with a television cable cord in front of their children on another occasion.
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog at azstarnet.com/courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org