A Kern County jury on Thursday convicted a 33-year-old Iraq War veteran of first-degree murder of his stepfather and second-degree murder of his mother in 2016.

Derek Connell will be sentenced next month.

The trial began Jan. 27 and jurors began deliberations Monday. 

As the courtroom assembled to hear the verdict, Judge John Brownlee said he had received a note from the jury earlier in the day indicating it had reached a decision but asking, “Can we sleep on the decision and turn it in in the morning?”

Brownlee said he responded by telling the jury that if a decision had been reached, the parties were entitled to hear it the same day.

Connell was initially charged with first-degree murder in his mother's death but the jury decided on the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

On April 30, 2016, officers responding to a call for a welfare check found the bodies of Connell’s mother and stepfather, Kim Higginbotham and Christopher Tare Higginbotham, lying in pools of blood in their northwest Bakersfield home.

It appeared bleach had been poured on the body of Christopher Higginbotham, 48, in an effort to clean up, police said in court filings.

Connell's mother, also 48, was found down a hall from Christopher Higginbotham’s body, the filings say.

Two shotguns, five handguns and seven rifles were seized from the home. Connell was accused of shooting the couple at their home.

His story about that night reportedly changed several times.

During initial questioning, Connell told investigators, "I think it was me" when asked who killed the Higginbothams. But he said he had no memory of what happened, according to court filings.

He said he began living with the couple after serving a nine-month jail sentence for a DUI in Colorado.

During trial, KGET-TV 17 reported that Connell claimed he was sexually abused by his stepfather. The station reported that Connell said his stepfather shot his mother during a fight about the alleged abuse the night of the deaths and that Connell admitted to then shooting his stepfather.

Early in court proceedings, Connell's attorney said Connell suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his experiences overseas during the Iraq War.

Connell told investigators he served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2008, and was less than honorably discharged due to an incident involving alcohol. He said his platoon routinely raided Iraqi pharmacies for steroids and other drugs and that he used steroids for 13 months while overseas.

(1) comment


to err is human.....maybe Kevin will get Donny to pardon this veteran...

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