The grandmother of a boy at the center of an Autauga County child abuse case where the naked victim was chained by the ankles to a staircase, forced to sleep in a dog crate and malnourished has pleaded guilty.
Vickie Seale Higgenbotham, 58, of Autauga County, pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse Tuesday morning before Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds. Prosecutors say she was the ringleader in the case.
When Reynolds asked his usual “What did you do to make you guilty?” She turned to her attorney Amanda Baxley, who then turned to Assistant District Attorney Jillian Jordan Evans.
“Your honor the state expected to show during trial that the then-12-year-old boy was found in the home naked and chained to the staircase,” she said. “The evidence will show that this occurred over a period of two years. The child was forced to sleep naked in a dog crate. He showed signs of being malnourished.
“She is the pure form of evil. She did all these things to the child, who is her grandson. Due to the nature of the abuse, the state will be seeking the maximum punishment.”
Higgenbotham entered a “blind” plea, meaning the DA’s office made no recommended sentence. Aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony with a punishment range of two to 20 years in prison. Reynolds set sentencing for Dec. 12.
“My client has accepted responsibility for her actions,” Baxely said after the plea agreement was finalized.
Jordan declined to say where the boy is now, citing his age, but did say he is doing well and recovering.
This marks the second guilty plea in the case. Dannielle Nicole Martin, 32, the victim’s mother, entered a plea to aggravated child abuse before Reynolds in May. She too entered a blind plea, and her sentencing is pending.
Autauga County deputies found the boy chained in a home in the 2500 block of County Road 46, court records show.
Martin spoke to the court during her plea. The judge took on a harsh tone.
“I made bad decisions and bad judgements,” she started out. “And I didn’t stop some things.” “I had problems with my son for a long time, and I wasn’t getting the help I asked for,” she continued. “Some decisions were made that shouldn’t have been made and I didn’t fight to stop some things that shouldn’t have happened…”
“Like chaining him to the door with a padlock?” Reynolds cut in, interrupting her.
“That and other incidents,” she said. “But he was chained at the ankles when I was arrested.”
Sentencing in her case has been delayed because the state expects to call her as a witness if her co-defendants go to trial.
The remaining three co-defendants each face one count of aggravated child abuse and include:
- Joshua David Martin, 26, the boy’s step-father.
- Douglas Gene Phillips, 38, the boy’s uncle.
- Matthew Allen Phillips, 29, the boy’s uncle.
Their trial dates have not been set.
According to court records, Dannielle and Joshua Martin and Higginbotham allegedly performed the abusive acts on the boy. The uncles were charged as accomplices, because they lived in the home at the time the alleged abuse occurred, but did nothing to stop it and did not report the abuse.
Dannielle Martin and Higginbotham remain in the Autauga Metro Jail under cash bonds of $60,000 each. They have been in jail since their arrest in September of 2018. Joshua Martin is out on bond, and must wear a court-ordered ankle monitor to track his location.
Deputies arrived at the home after receiving an anonymous call that a child was bound inside by chains and padlocks, said Sheriff Joe Sedinger in September of 2018. The Martins and Higgenbotham were originally charged with the torture/willful abuse of a child.
The charges were upgraded to aggravated child abuse after the investigation showed that the boy had been chained for a period of about 18 hours when deputies released that day, and that the boy had been chained in a similar fashion on past occasions, testimony during the trio’s first court appearance in September of 2018 brought out.
Testimony at the time also brought out that the boy showed signs of malnourishment.
Two other children in the home, a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old were removed from the home in September of 2018 and are in the custody of the Alabama Department of Human Resources. They are half-siblings to the 13-year-old boy.
Testimony during an October 2018 preliminary hearing brought out that the boy had allegedly been forced to sleep in a dog crate, and often had his arms chained behind his back.
This is absolutely unacceptable, I hope they all get the maximum sentences! If you are ever aware of such abuse I hope you’ll be the one to tell someone who can gelp. Who knows what this poor child was put through, and for what, Amusement? A sick game? I honestly don’t care but these people should be punished for what they’ve done.