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Highful pleads guilty, heading to state prison

By June 29, 2023July 3rd, 2023No Comments

On Tuesday, Melody Minchew finally got some closure in a McCurtain County Courtroom.
The mother of an Eagletown student stood at a lectern and accused her son’s former teacher, Ian Highful, of drugging and raping her son, resulting in her son Tra taking his own life.
Highful, who turns 42 this month, did not look at Minchew as she spoke. He turned his head to the right the entire time, even though his defense counsel, Allen Malone, did look at Minchew as she read what is called a victim’s impact statement just before Highful was sentenced.
“This day has finally come,” Minchew said. “For years I’ve said so much but no one listened, and today, on the day that counts the most, I do not know what to say first.
“Four years, four months and 24 days Tra cried. The load was too heavy for him to bear. Two years, seven days later I get to stand here to look at you. I can finally rest, knowing for the years you serve you will not be able to hurt a child.
“So I am supposed to stand in front of this court and say how your cruel and sick actions not only took my baby mentally and physically, but how it affected our family and others in so many ways – or am I supposed to tell you who Tra was before you walked into Tra’s classroom, preyed on Tra, befriended Tra, received nudes from Tra, supplied Tra with unlimited amounts of alcohol and other drugs, then when he trusted you the most you drugged and raped him?
“Today will be one of the worst days you will face, but for Tra it’s the best. Ian, what you took from Tra I spent his last days trying to right your wrongs. I watched him go from a ninth grade boy with dreams to an eleventh grader who had no hope…a champion bull rider to never leaving his room…a very independent young man to being paralyzed by fear and traumatizing nightmares…the sweetest, humble soul to overly medicated just so he could function…a smile that would light up the room to no face at all.
“So today when you plea guilty, as Tra’s momma I will take the same force I used to have you arrested and learn how to forgive you.”
As part of a negotiated plea between the state and defense, Highful pleaded guilty, and told the court he was indeed guilty, of aggravated possession of child pornography, child sexual exploitation, soliciting sexual conduct or communication with a minor by use of technology, child sexual exploitation and assisting lewd exhibition.
All five charges are felonies.
Because his sentences will all be served at the same time, Highful received a net 13 years in prison plus 12 years suspended, a $500 fine on each felony, and he must also pay court costs and victim witness compensation fees.
District Judge Mark R. Campbell said Highful will likely be registered as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.
The sheriff’s department investigator who first did an extensive probe of allegations against Highful, Billy Conaway, later suffered a stroke and couldn’t get sufficient evidence for charges, so a few years passed before District Attorney Mark Matloff asked the sheriff’s department to take another look at the evidence.
With the passage of time, some of the teen victims who had initially been unwilling to tell everything that had happened to them changed their minds as adults and were willing to testify, greatly helping the state’s case.
Charles B. “Chuck” Sullivan, district attorney at Pittsburg County, took up the case after local prosecutors and judges recused.
Highful opted to go straight to prison rather than staying any longer in the McCurtain County Jail. He will get credit for time he has served since his arrest last year.
Had Highful opted for trial, which was already scheduled for August, he could have been sentenced up to life in prison upon conviction.