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Huffington, convicted of murders in 1981, released from prison Monday

Laws and LegislationHomicideFBIJustice SystemCoppin State University

Shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, attorney Ryan Malone learned that his client John Norman Huffington became a free man after serving 32 years of two life sentences for a Harford County double murder.

Malone, who is a member of the Ropes & Gray law firm of Washington, D.C., received an e-mail about his client's status while speaking with The Aegis Monday afternoon.

Huffington, 50, had been an inmate at the state's Patuxent Institution in Howard County, but was granted a new trial and his convictions were vacated by Frederick County Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr., after a review of his petition for writ of actual innocence.

Dwyer noted in his May 1 order that the scientific evidence which played a major role in Huffington's conviction in the early 1980s has since been discredited.

Dwyer set Huffington's bond at $500,000, or $250,000 for each murder case, after a hearing in Frederick County Circuit Court last Thursday. The judge also scheduled a pretrial conference for Sept. 30.

Erin Julius, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, confirmed Huffington had been released Monday and his bond posted last Friday.

Malone said a bail bondsman must put up the full amount, and the person incarcerated must cover a percentage of the bond, usually 3 to 10 percent.

Malone said Huffington, plus his family and friends, paid for the bond, although he declined to say what percentage they had paid.

"That's between them and the bail bondsman," he said.

Huffington has said for decades that he is innocent of the crimes.

The state's Writ of Actual Innocence statute, passed in 2009, allows people convicted of crimes to obtain a new trial, if they can produce evidence that would create a different outcome.

"This is, in some ways, uncharted waters, but our sincere hope is that Mr. Huffington will never spend another day behind bars," Malone said Monday.

Huffington was convicted of the May 25, 1981, murders of Abingdon residents Diana Becker and her boyfriend, Joseph Hudson, by juries in Caroline County and Frederick in 1981 and 1983, respectively.

Huffington, who was 18 at the time of the murders, was convicted based largely on the testimony of his partner, then 25-year-Deno Kanaras, and ballistic and hair evidence presented by FBI agents.

Kanaras was released from prison in 2008 after serving 27 years for his role in the murders, for which he also received a life sentence.

The federal agent who testified of his certainty that hairs recovered from Ms. Becker's bed and clothing belonged to Huffington has since been discredited, as a result of a Department of Justice review of his work and of other FBI analysts during the 1990s.

A DNA analysis conducted in April showed the hair was not Huffington's.

Malone said Huffington will live in the Patrick Allison House in Baltimore as a condition of his bond.

He must also follow all laws, keep away from the families of the victims, abstain from drugs and alcohol and submit to random screenings at his "own expense," according to the list of his bond conditions, provided by Frederick County court staff.

Malone said his client obtained a bachelor's degree from Coppin State University in management science while in prison, and earned a great deal of "supervisory authority and responsibility" working in the prison paint shop.

The degree was awarded to Huffington in May of 1995.

"He has worked very hard over this time to make clear the type of person he is," Malone said. "These charges, first of all, they're not accurate and they're also certainly not reflective of who he is."

One woman, who said she became friends with Huffington while working with a prison paint shop supplier, attended last week's hearing with two other women.

Huffington's family members also attended last week's hearing but declined to comment afterward.

William Watson, of Havre de Grace, Ms. Becker's older brother and one of three siblings, said his parents were "obviously extremely upset" when they received a call from corrections officials Monday, alerting them that Huffington would be released.

"In light of what we witnessed last Thursday we're not surprised," he said. "However, we are deeply saddened and once again outraged that the system of justice, designed to bring justice to victims, has failed once again."

Watson continued: "This represents judicial malfeasance of the greatest magnitude and I personally am going to make every effort I can, myself and my allies, to see that this [writ of actual innocence] law is modified so that this can never happen again to another victim in the state of Maryland."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationHomicideFBIJustice SystemCoppin State University
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