Lieberman called the case “difficult for a number of reasons.” Among the reasons he cited was a second coroner’s review of the autopsy and the finding “there was absolutely no sign of a fight, no bruises on the deceased” along with evidence of the deceased having prior heart problems, he said.
“We don’t know for sure what actually occurred to have caused this death. We do know the defendant was involved. He has entered a plea of guilty. He is sorry,” Lieberman said.
A crying Smith stood and addressed Higgins’ family and friends.
“I want to say I am sorry," he said.
A brother of Higgins said the loss was difficult on Higgins’ children, family and friends who would never see him again. The brother said he personally had forgiven Smith so he could go on.
Kendell said after the hearing that the lack of any marks from a fight on Higgins’ body and brain and information received after the charges were filed about him having heart attacks following the incident made the case more difficult.
“These were not insurmountable. However, with no marks, no bruises to indicate he was struck was very problematic because the mechanism of death, no doctor could speak to it," he said. “It was a very difficult case."
Gee said he found Smith remorseful and talked of comments he’d read in victim impact statements from Higgins’ family and friends. Several talked of his kindness and referred to him “as a big-hearted person,” the judge said. “There is nothing I could say or do that would change the fact he’s no longer with you and, for that, I am sorry.”