Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Deseret News editorial: Elizabeth Smart's case finds closure at last
HOLLADAY — Rebecca Mills had just turned 16 when she became Jason Higgins' first victim.
She was raped at knifepoint in the alley of a church parking lot just two blocks from her Ogden home in 1996.
Higgins was sentenced two years later for raping her and seven other girls, mostly teenagers. The conviction brought a measure of relief to the teen. But even as Higgins was on his way to the Utah State Prison, Mills was about to begin a life sentence of her own.
The innocent 16-year-old girl was free-spirited and smart. She graduated from high school a year early and secured two scholarships. But she never used the scholarships and within a few years spiraled into drug abuse. She became a heroin junkie.
"I was so young at the time, I was just 16. I think for the first few years I was really trying to stay strong so my family wouldn't see how fragile I really was on the inside," Mills said Monday.
"I knew," interjected Mills' mother, Catherine Liston.
"I just felt like my life had been stolen from me because I wasn't afraid before this happened," Mills said. "And now, ever since then, I'm still afraid of the dark, still afraid of everything, still afraid to be in the house alone. I feel he has stolen so much control over my life.
"I felt so lost because nobody knew how I felt sometimes. I really just had too much on my mind to go to college and use my scholarships. … And I look back on that and think, 'Gosh, if that hadn't have happened, I had these two scholarships, I think I would have gone really far in life.'"
On Tuesday, Mills hopes to take the an important step in reclaiming her life.
Higgins, 39, will appear for his first parole hearing since he was ordered in 1998 to serve six prison terms of 15 years to life for nine rapes of eight girls between October 1996 and February 1997. Two of those sentences were ordered to run consecutively, essentially giving him a 30-years-to-life sentence.
Although Mills and Liston know that Higgins will not be granted parole Tuesday, they want the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to know how his actions continue to hurt their family.
"What he did, he didn't kill her, thank God. But he killed the person that she was. He killed her soul … he broke her soul," Liston said of her daughter. "That's a permanent life sentence that will never go away. My heart is broken and it will never heal.
"I listen to her talk and I still fall apart because I just can't stand that somebody did this to her and how it has altered our lives," Liston said. "Where would we be today? What would we be doing? Would she be married and have a bunch of kids?"
Looking at a younger picture of herself on the table, Mills said she sees a person who was happy.
That changed in 1996 when she was attacked while walking home alone from a pep rally at Ben Lomond High School.
"I remember everything about that night. I thought I was going to die. When he let me go, it was like, 'Wow, I'm not going to die.' I just ran into the closest house I could see. They had their door open and I just ran inside and they called 911," Mills said.
"Right before he had grabbed me, I had turned around because I heard a pebble on the ground. I said, 'Oh you scared me.' That's when he grabbed me. I got a really good look at his face."
Higgins didn't say a word to Mills before he grabbed her. She was the first of his victims and the girl who got the best look at her attacker. She helped police create a composite drawing of Higgins and she and her mother helped post flyers all over Ogden.
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