CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. - Closing arguments are expected today in the trial of New Jersey State Trooper Robert Higbee, accused of vehicular homicide in the 2006 deaths of two sisters.
Defense attorney D. William Subin concluded with testimony from an amnesia expert and 39 character witnesses on Tuesday but formally rested his case yesterday after a morning in which both sides wrangled over procedural issues.
Jacqueline Becker, 17, and Christina Becker, 19, were killed Sept. 27, 2006, when Higbee ran a stop sign and broadsided their minivan at Stagecoach and Tuckahoe Roads in the Marmora section of Upper Township. A vehicle data recorder in the police cruiser clocked Higbee's speed at 65 m.p.h. Higbee was chasing a speeder but had not activated his siren or emergency lights.
The 12 jurors, whom Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten is expected to instruct today, must decide whether the trooper's actions were criminally reckless. If convicted, Higbee could face up to 20 years in prison.
The trial has drawn national attention because of its implications for police pursuits and the use of information from the so-called black-box recorder in the police car. Before the proceedings, Subin unsuccessfully fought to disallow the black-box data.
Now in its seventh week, the trial is one of the longest in Cape May County history. The list of potential fact and character witnesses submitted by Subin and Cape May County First Assistant Prosecutor David Meyer named nearly 150 people, more than a third of whom testified. It took almost 21/2 weeks just to pick a jury.
From the start, Higbee's family, including his wife, Bethany, and a cadre of friends and nonuniformed police have packed one side of the courtroom. On the other side has been the family of the victims, including their mother, Maria Caiafa, who has sat stone-faced during much of the testimony.
Higbee took the stand on Monday, his 37th birthday. His recollection of the night of the crash and description of his life since riveted the jury.
"It's the first thing I think about when I get up," Higbee told them. "It's the last thing I think about at night."