DNA exonerates suspect in stabbing

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, March 11, 2011

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Assault charges against a Tuba City man have been dropped after DNA evidence exonerated him of the November stabbing of former Tuba City School District Superintendent Bill Higgins.

Flagstaff-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider said his office dropped the charges against Thomas A. Maloney, 18, of Tuba City, after DNA obtained from Higgins' apartment turned out not to be a match.

Another Tuba City man, 19-year-old Arsenio Azule, has been charged in the assault.

Maloney is being held in the Corrections Corp. of America prison in Florence, Ariz., pending a sentencing hearing on an unrelated burglary charge, to which he has pled guilty, Schneider said. Other burglary charges were dropped in the plea agreement. He will be sentenced March 23 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

Azule, arrested March 4 in Monument Valley, has been indicted on one count of first-degree burglary and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon. If convicted, the combined sentence could be as high as 30 years in prison.

However, Higgins wrote in an e-mail to the Times that he feels his assailant may have been acting on orders from others.

"I don't care who stabbed me," Higgins wrote, "I want to know who was behind the stabbing. I have felt from the first that there are others behind this and that there is more than meets the eye."

Higgins declined to elaborate. However, after he was hired in 2008 he made enemies in the school district with what some consider draconian budget cuts, including layoffs, to keep it afloat in the wake of Arizona's budget crisis and massive red ink left by the previous district administration.

In December the school board transferred him from the superintendency to principal of the tiny elementary school in Gap. The action was taken after an executive session with neither the board nor Higgins revealing the reason.

Higgins, currently on medical leave in his home state of Washington, said he believes the district should take some responsibility for failing to keep the employee housing area more secure.

"It is 100 percent incumbent on the district to keep me safe. And ALL other staff who live there," Higgins wrote in an e-mail.

Higgins was at home using the bathroom Nov. 4 when, he told police, an unknown young man appeared in his doorway with a knife.

Higgins said he told the man to leave but instead the man began to stab him and knocked him into the bathtub. Higgins was able to free himself and run into his bedroom, where he kept a pistol. The man followed and continued to stab him.

Higgins grabbed the pistol and tried to shoot his attacker, but the gun didn't fire because the bullets were jammed, he said.

The assailant then attempted to flee but ran into a window, cutting himself and leaving blood that was later used to test for DNA. He then fled out the back door.

Higgins said he maintained all along that fingerprint and DNA evidence should be used in the case, as he was only "90 percent sure" the man he picked out of a photo lineup (Maloney) was his attacker.

Maloney's attorney, John Trebon, had asked for the DNA test.

"This case shows that everyone needs to be more cautious," Trebon said in a telephone interview from his Flagstaff office. "We've known for years that eyewitness identification is unreliable, especially when photographs are used, and yet police continue to use this kind of photo lineup to confirm the identity of suspects."

Trebon said he was convinced from the start of his client's innocence.

"He confessed to other burglaries in the area, but denied any involvement in this case," Trebon said. "There was no violence in any of the other burglaries. It seemed out of character."

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