BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County jury found a man guilty of two counts of murder Thursday in the shooting deaths of his mother and stepfather.
The jury found Derek Connell guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his stepfather but not guilty of first-degree murder in his mother’s death. The jury instead found him guilty of the lesser included charge of second-degree murder in her death.
Connell, 33, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. He faces life without the possibility of parole at his March 12 sentencing.
The jury sent a note to the court at about 3:22 p.m. saying it had reached a verdict. The note came after roughly 10 hours of deliberation.
During a two-week trial, the prosecution said the Iraq War veteran gunned down the two his mother, Kim Higginbotham, and stepfather, Chris Higginbotham at their northwest Bakersfield home. Both were 48.
The defense argued Connell killed his stepfather after the other man shot and killed his mother.
Connell testified he suffered years of sexual abuse by his Chris Higginbotham beginning when he was 10, and had kept silent. On the day of the killings, Connell said, he finally told his mother about the abuse. When she confronted his stepfather, an argument ensued and Chris Higginbotham killed her, Connell told the jury.
He testified he then shot Chris Higginbotham multiple times, killing him.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Marcus Cuper asked the jury to reject Connell’s testimony regarding the abuse. He said Connell was caught in multiple lies when questioned by officers and admitted to concocting elaborate stories — including that his stepfather was in heavy debt to a loan shark and was probably killed because of it.
The abuse was yet another lie, Cuper said.
The motive for the killings will probably never be known, Cuper told the jury, but the evidence points to Connell. Police arrested him as he drove from the crime scene with empty bottles of bleach in his vehicle, he had blood on his clothing and in one interview he told detectives he “probably” killed both his mother and stepfather.
Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman argued Connell didn’t come forward about the abuse earlier because of the shame he felt, and because Chris Higginbotham had threatened to harm his mother if he told anyone. Outwardly, Connell and his family appeared to live ordinary lives, but beneath that veneer of normalcy there were “terrible secrets,” Cadman said.
Police went to a house in Lily Pad Court on April 30, 2016, after receiving a frantic call from a relative of Connell’s in Scotland. The relative told police Connell had contacted her on FaceTime and showed her video of bodies in the house.
Officers entered and found the body of Chris Higginbotham lying in a pool of blood with a mixture of blood and bleach surrounding him. He’d been shot three times — in the neck, chest and shoulder.
Kim Higginbotham, a teacher with the Delano Union School District, was found dead with a gunshot wound to her chest in another part of the house.