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Judge sentences Wagers to 40 years in hatchet killing

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Accused entered plea of guilty but mentally ill

By Sarah Bennett

As Cindy Higdon tearfully read her victim’s impact statement Friday afternoon during the formal sentencing hearing for Jamie B. Wagers, she made no eye contact with the man who admitted to murdering her son with a hatchet.

Wagers, 25, of Elizabethtown stared straight ahead as Christian Higdon’s mother sobbed as she told the court her son’s brutal slaying occupies her first thought of the morning and her last at night.

“One year, three months and 18 days of waking up and going to bed without my youngest son,” Cindy Higdon said.

However, when the 20-year-old victim’s father, Dennis Higdon, stood and faced Wagers as he made his statement, Wagers returned his gaze and smiled.

As Dennis Higdon said he hopes Wagers spends his 40-year sentence making peace with God and thinking about Christian, Cindy and the rest of the Higdon family, Wagers continued to smile before attempting to interrupt the father’s remarks.

“Well, your son…” Wagers tried to say before Hardin Circuit Judge Ken Howard cut him off.

“Mr. Wagers, you need to understand I can add time,” the judge said.

In September, Wagers pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the June 16, 2012, slaying of Christian Higdon. The Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center diagnosed Wagers in 2010 with schizophrenia.

He pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges of murder, tampering with physical evidence and violation of an emergency protective order. The commonwealth recommended Wagers serve 40 years in prison.

According to Kentucky State Police, Wagers told Higdon to leave his 130 Magers Drive residence, and when the Clarkson man did not, Wagers struck the victim over the head with a hatchet. Higdon then fled the scene and was found dead in a neighbor’s yard, police said.

During her statements Friday, Cindy Higdon said Christian’s death certificate indicated her son died 15 minutes after sustaining the blow to his head.

“Do you have any idea how scared he had to have been for that amount of time?” she asked Wagers.

As the mother sobbed through her statement to the court, family members and friends cried along with her in the gallery.

Wagers’ attorney, public defender Landon Tingle, said the defendant has expressed sorrow for Christian’s family since his first meeting with his client and wished the incident never occurred.

“He’s very sorry that it happened,” Tingle said in court Friday.

Howard ultimately sentenced Wagers in accordance with the plea agreement and said he was encouraged by the Higdons’ statements.

“There is no understanding a crime of this nature,” the judge said.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at 270-505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.