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Closing the Gap
The Trial of Trooper Robert Higbee

by D. William Subin ©2013, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-69-8, 160 pp
 

Thirty-four-year-old New Jersey State Trooper Robert Higbee lay on

his back in an Atlantic City Hospital room. His 6’8” frame hardly

fit into the bed. Just hours before at 10:00 p.m., Higbee sustained a concussion when the patrol car in which he was “closing the gap” on a

speeder, collided with a van crossing through an intersection ahead of

him. Tragically, the two teenage sisters in the van died at the scene.

 

The next morning, I received a phone call from the State Troopers

Fraternal Association of New Jersey (STFA), the organization

that represents the state’s law enforcement officers. I was already on

their approved attorney’s list and had previously answered “critical

incident matters” on their behalf. I was now being asked to represent

Trooper Higbee regarding any repercussions related to the accident.

 

Within an hour I was at the hospital. Higbee was still in a daze.

I had no idea at that moment I met him, how closely our lives would

become connected.

 

Five months later, a Cape May County grand jury indicted

Trooper Higbee on the charge of vehicular homicide, a crime that

carries a penalty of up to twenty years in prison. My job was to establish

conclusively that Higbee had acted neither intentionally nor

recklessly, only that he had made a tragic mistake in the dark of

night, at a poorly marked intersection in rural Cape May County,

New Jersey.

 

The heaviest burden that can be placed upon a defense attorney

is in knowing that the fate of an innocent person rests in your hands.

The following two-and-a-half years would prove to be the most demanding and excruciating I have ever experienced in my career as

a criminal trial lawyer.

Author’s Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Chapter 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

Chapter 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

Chapter 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

Chapter 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33

Chapter 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

Chapter 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48

Chapter 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .60

Chapter 8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69

Chapter 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79

Chapter 10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .91

Chapter 11 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97

Chapter 12 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104

Chapter 13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .115

Chapter 14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123

Chapter 15: 2012 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127

Trial Notes: What the Jury Didn’t See . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

On the Scenes Diagrams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131

PowerPoint Presentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .137

Photographs and News Clippings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .146

Lives are intertwined by unforeseen events…


The tragedy took place around 10:00 p.m. September 27, 2006

at a poorly lit and badly marked intersection in rural Cape May

County, New Jersey.

 

An outstretched piece of land jutting south from the rest of New

Jersey, the county is a unique combination of summertime seasonal

resorts, small towns, rural farmland and woods. The locals travel

back roads from Memorial Day through Labor Day to avoid the congestion

on the Garden State Parkway, a toll road bisecting the peninsula

from north to south ending just before Victorian Cape May.

 

Marmora, a part of Upper Township, is so small there is no local

police force. Children in Upper Township attend the Ocean City

High School a few miles to the east. There are pockets of mini shopping

malls along Route 9, the busy road that parallels the Garden

State Parkway, along with some 24-hour convenience stores, gas stations,

and pizza parlors open at night. Driving south on Route 9,

you intersect a two-lane road called Old Tuckahoe Road (County

Road 631). Turning right, some distance later, that road intersects

a smaller road named Stagecoach Road (County Road 667), running

roughly north and south and parallel to Route 9.

 

Stagecoach Road is about 100 years old. It may have been a dirt

road before the county paved it. Tourists or those unfamiliar with

the area would probably never venture from Route 9 west to this

intersection of Tuckahoe and Stagecoach.

CLOSING THE GAP 5

Locals avoid the traffic on Route 9 and the Garden State Parkway

as much as possible to do their errands. They, however, might

be familiar with a little group of stores called Wayside Village along

Tuckahoe Road. They might go to the little restaurant or the ice

cream stand there during the day. But at night there is little or no

activity in this largely residential and rural area. Probably the only

store open in the evening hours is the Wawa convenience store on

Route 9.

 

There are no full time firefighters or rescue squads in this area,

only volunteers, and like in many other areas outside New Jersey

cities, law enforcement is provided by the New Jersey State Police.

Unlike local police, New Jersey State Police troopers are assigned

to this area from the Woodbine Barracks, typically spend some

months in the roughly 40-square-mile area, and then move on to

other assignments in the state.

 

The local residents typically escape the massive crowds and excitement

of the seaside resorts to the east. But one event changed

all that.

 

Seventeen-year-old Jacqueline Becker was close to her nineteenyear-

old sister Christina. Five-foot-eight with dark brown wavy hair,

Jacqueline was a senior at Ocean City High School and loved history,

art and drama. She spoke Italian and Spanish and loved languages

with a base in Latin. Her outgoing personality was perfect for school

plays.

 

With lighter brown wavy hair, older sister Christina wore

glasses, was heavyset, and was more reserved. She had graduated

a few years earlier from Ocean City High School and now attended

neraby Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Her dream was to

own a bed and breakfast with her mother, Maria Caiafa, so she was

taking culinary courses to further her career plans. Christina was

working her way through college delivering medicine to seniors as

part of her duties at an Ocean City pharmacy.

 

Both girls were gentle and loving. Both had baby-sat for neighbors

in the Upper Township area while staying with their maternal

grandparents Caesar and Geraldine Caiafa, which they did often.

Maria has been the long-time principal at a middle school in Northfield,

a larger community in Atlantic County. Maria’s parents loved

to have Christina and Jacqueline at their home in Upper Township.

 

All five were often together. Grandfather Caesar talked about them

as “his girls,” describing Jacqueline as his “white rose” and Christina

as “red rose,” a reference to their complexions.

“A riveting story and a heart-stopping read. But this book is also a reminder of the fragility of our justice system, and of the extraordinary efforts often necessary to make it work.”

G. Jan Colijn, Dean Emeritus, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey


“Bill Subin provides rare and detailed insights into how a winning criminal defense is planned and presented.”

Roger Adelman, Criminal Defense Attorney, Chief United States Prosecutor, John Hinckley, Jr. trial, Washington, D.C.



“Well worth reading, both for the author's candid comments regarding the process and the thought-provoking questions it raises about the circumstances."

Ernest Torres, Chief Judge (Ret.), U.S. District Court R.I



“Bill Subin has written this book with the same energy and conviction that he exhibited during the trial. A great read for those seeking honesty and accuracy.”

Dennis Hallion, Past Chairman and Executive Director
National Troopers Coalition

 


“Brilliantly presents the facts and emotions from the inside, with empathy and compassion."

Barbara Altman, Radio Talk Show Host, Barbara Altman's Front Porch



“I could not wait to turn to the next page. This is a must read."

Kevin P. McCann, Immediate Past President
New Jersey State Bar Association

D. William Subin is an Attorney at Law admitted to practice in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. and before the U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals in the 3rd and District of Columbia Circuits. He was an Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, D.C. and Camden, N.J.; Senior Assistant Prosecutor in Camden County, New Jersey; and Assistant Prosecutor and Police Legal Advisor in Atlantic County, New Jersey.

Since 1976 "Bill" has been in private practice representing police, fire and other federal, state and local law enforcement unions including the STFA, PBA, FOP, and others. He is a former chair, Criminal Law Section, New Jersey State Bar Association and an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Bill is a graduate of Columbia Law School, Dartmouth College and Atlantic City High School. 

He lives in Margate, New Jersey with his wife Petra “Petie” Subin and their two Portuguese Water Dogs. The Subins have three grown sons. Bill’s hobbies include back bay rowing, oil painting, and bicycling on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Closing the Gap

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D. William Subin

 

 

A police car chase gone badly wrong.


A state trooper on trial for vehicular homicide.


The lives of two promising young sisters cut short.


A trial with very high stakes for law enforcement nationwide.

 

 

 

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