Jury: Toddler had cocaine in system

Published 5:45 am Friday, November 25, 2016

A St. Tammany Parish jury found Larry Bickham, 60, of Slidell, guilty Friday, Nov. 18, of charges related to his 17-month-old daughter’s positive test for cocaine during a hospital stay in 2014, according to information from the office of District Attorney Warren Montgomery.

Bickham is set for sentencing Jan. 20 before District Judge William Burris for second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and simple cruelty to a juvenile for allowing the victim to be present during the manufacturing, distribution, or purchasing of cocaine.

Bickham, who has other felony convictions, faces up to life in prison if sentenced as a habitual offender.

“At the heart of this case is a beautiful little girl, who at just 17 months old tested positive for cocaine in her system,” Montgomery said. “She had no say in her father’s drug addiction. But the jury rightly held her father responsible for the harm his addiction caused this little girl.”

The case against Bickham stemmed from an incident on May 1, 2014, when his toddler daughter was rushed to the emergency room at Ochsner Hospital in Slidell and tested positive for cocaine. Witnesses testified during the weeklong trial that they had smoked crack and used drugs with Bickham and the girl’s mother, Kayla Gregg, on numerous occasions while the child was in the home.

By the time of the emergency room visit, though, Gregg was no longer living with Bickham and had left the baby with him. A woman who had kept the toddler for Bickham in the past testified that he called her on May 1, 2014, and asked her to care for the toddler temporarily because the baby was not feeling well. The temporary caregiver testified that she brought the child home with her but then rushed to the emergency room after the toddler showed signs of having a seizure.

Bickham’s attorneys argued that the trip to the emergency room was part of a scheme by the temporary caregiver, who had been a friend of the toddler’s mother, to get full custody of the child from Bickham.

Criminal Division Chief Collin Sims prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney William Macke. They urged the jury to block out the distractions of the case. Sims in his closing argument told the jury that the little girl had been failed by those expected to protect her, and he urged the jury to hold the father accountable. The jury deliberated about 3-1/2 hours before returning a unanimous verdict on the simple cruelty charge and voting 10-2 on the second-degree cruelty charge.