DRAPER — The hearing officer for serial rapist Jason Brett Higgins won’t be recommending his release.
Higgins, 38, has served 14 years in prison since he terrorized the Ogden area in 1996 and 1997.
Don Blanchard was the hearing officer for Higgins’ first parole hearing, held Tuesday morning.
Blanchard said he would be urging no release date for Higgins, instead recommending a rehearing date, the two options the board of pardons considers after an inmate’s original hearing.
“It should be years away, as opposed to months,” he said.
A decision on Blanchard’s recommendation will be made by the full, five-member parole board, usually within two weeks of an inmate’s parole hearing.
Blanchard is a veteran of the parole process, serving 16 years as a member of the state Board of Pardons before retiring in 2006 to become a part-time parole hearing officer. Before joining the board, he worked 20 years with the state Adult Probation and Parole Division.
“I’ve got too many ugly stories in the back of my head,” he said in an interview after the hearing.
“I try to forget them as soon as I see them. But some don’t go away. This is one of those.”
The case against Higgins for nine rapes against eight women — one woman was attacked on two separate occasions — was made with DNA testing before Higgins finally admitted to the rapes at his February 1998 sentencing.
The string of attacks on women walking alone at night occurred between October 1996 and February 1997.
The case broke when Higgins’ car was observed in the Ogden City Cemetery, parked oddly in the vicinity of his last rape. When contacted by police, he claimed he was in the cemetery at the time visiting his grandfather’s grave.
But when taken to the cemetery site, he could not locate the grave when asked to do so by Ogden Detective Dave Lucas, now retired.
Higgins was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison by 2nd District Judge Parley Baldwin, now retired.
Still on the job is Chief Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward, the lead prosecutor against Higgins.
“The guy should never be on the outside of a prison wall for the rest of his life,” Heward said. “At least not until he’s a very elderly gentleman.”
Heward is skeptical of rehabilitation for the serial rapist. Utah is one of the few states that still has indeterminate sentencing, he said, meaning prison terms come with a range, such as five years to life, meant to provide incentive for inmates for possible early release.
“That is tied to a belief that rehabilitation is possible,” he said. “But most states have gone away from that because the only thing that changes them is they get old and tired of being in prison.”
Blanchard said he wasn’t surprised that only one of Higgins’ victims showed up at the hearing to speak against Higgins’ release.
“A lot of time has passed. I’m sure they would like to keep some distance from what happened. And that is understandable.”