There were some big developments Wednesday in the case against a Halifax couple arrested and charged last summer in connection with a double homicide on the Eastern Shore more than five years ago.
Prosecutor Mark Heerema announced in Dartmouth provincial court that the Crown was withdrawing all charges against Karen Marie Higgins, 50.
Heerema also told the court that the Crown was filing a preferred indictment in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to send Elmer Percy Higgins, Karen’s 67-year-old husband, directly to trial.
The pair had been scheduled to have a preliminary inquiry in provincial court later this month on two counts of second-degree murder and six firearms-related charges.
Elmer Higgins will be given a notice to appear in Supreme Court in Halifax next week, Heerema said.
“It’s not a procedure that happens every day,” Judge Ted Tax said of the preferred indictment.
“I’m sure it’s been thought through very carefully by the Crown.”
Firefighters responded to a report of a blaze at a camp along Highway 374 in Sheet Harbour onDec. 12, 2012.
The remains of Matthew Hebb, 22, and Earle Stewart, 59, were found in the cabin. Both men had been shot.
Karen Higgins was released on bail in September. Her husband, who is in poor health and claims to have terminal cancer, was granted bail in October.
Lawyer Don Murray appeared in court Wednesday with Karen Higgins, while Karen Endres represented Elmer Higgins, who was not present.
Several members of the victims’ families were in the gallery. Some shook their heads after the charges against Karen Higgins were dropped and left the courthouse in tears.
“I can say in my experience that most people who are in the criminal justice system as victims, it’s very emotional for them from start to finish, and certainly this case is no exception,” Heerema told The Chronicle Herald. “It involves a tragic set of circumstances.
“We do our best to try to explain what happens along the way, although, understandably, not all decisions are necessarily easy to accept or understand.”
Heerema said new evidence has come to light since charges were laid against the couple last August.
After reviewing the evidence, he and colleague Shauna Mac-Donald consulted with management and investigators before concluding they could not continue with the charges against Karen Higgins.
“As Crown attorneys, we have an ethical responsibility to only proceed on matters where we feel we have a realistic prospect of conviction,” he said.
Heerema said the decision to prefer an indictment against Elmer Higgins took into account “the unique circumstances of his case.”
“Our policy requires that we take a fulsome look at all the circumstances surrounding a case, including the circumstances of the accused,” he explained. “It’s not based on any one factor but entailed a very fulsome consideration of all the factors.”