Owner of former ice cream shop in McCandless to spend 20 to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing 2 girls
Two young girls stood before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel on Thursday and told her how David Higginbotham, the man they once thought of as a grandfather, betrayed their trust and scarred them for years to come.
“He made me feel disgusting,” one of the girls, now 13, told the judge.
“He used me,” her sister, now 12, said as she wiped tears from her face.
The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sexual assault or provide information that would lead to their identification.
“He violated their trust and understanding of the way the world should be,” their stepfather said. “He betrayed an obligation to safeguard our children from harm. … He does not deserve this court’s mercy. He does not deserve your leniency.”
McDaniel agreed, sentencing Higginbotham, 62, the former owner of a McCandless ice cream shop, to serve 20 to 40 years in prison for abusing the sisters during a five-year period, mostly inside his Marshall home.
Assistant District Attorney Lee Goldfarb had requested a sentence of 19 1⁄2 to 39 years.
Police said Higginbotham, a longtime friend who celebrated special occasions and holidays with the family, sexually abused the girls between April 2008 and August 2013, and told them they’d go to jail if they told anyone.
A jury in August convicted Higginbotham of a dozen counts, including two counts each of aggravated indecent assault of a child, unlawful contact with a minor and indecent exposure. They acquitted Higginbotham of three charges, including one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and two counts of statutory sexual assault.
Higginbotham said nothing Thursday as he stood before McDaniel in jail-issue red pants and a long-sleeve white shirt.
“The judge lit him up today,” said Phil DiLucente, Higginbotham’s defense lawyer, who said he would appeal.
“He believes he did not do any of these acts he’s accused of,” DiLucente said.
The girls’ mother said the sexual abuse tore their family apart.
“I’m angry for what he did to them physically and emotionally,” she said. “I’m angry for the hours spent in counseling, the unexplained headaches, the insomnia. … I am angry for the five years he stole from my family.”
McDaniel told her she should be angry.
“It may never be as good as it was, but it will get better,” she said.
Police arrested Higginbotham at Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and Yogurt, a shop he owned in the McCandless Crossing shopping center, on Nov. 22, 2013, a week after the older sister told her parents about the abuse. She told them her sister also was abused.
Sixty people wrote McDaniel letters on Higginbotham’s behalf, including his wife, Kathy, a family and consumer sciences instructor in North Allegheny Intermediate High School; his children; and several members of North Park Baptist Church in McCandless.
“He has served the Lord in our church above reproach in many areas and his involvement has benefitted not only our church but our community as well,” read a letter from Steven Arredondo, the church’s pastor.
The girls’ stepfather disagreed.
“There’s a special place in hell for people like David Higginbotham,” he said.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].