Changing laws, standards

In 2009, Maryland's General Assembly passed a law providing for what is known as a "petition for writ of actual innocence," essentially allowing a person convicted of a crime to seek a new trial if they can present new evidence "creates a substantial or significant possibility that the result may have been different, as that standard has been judicially determined," according to the Maryland Annotated Code.

The "writ of actual innocence" law, though designed to protect the rights of the innocent people convicted of crimes, has engendered considerable controversy since its enactment.

Previously, the law allowed defendants to file for new trials within 10 days of a verdict or later if they could show why new evidence couldn't be found within the time limit, according to a 2009 Baltimore Sun article. The new law took away the time limit and softened the requirements petitioners had to meet previously.

The game changing evidence in the Huffington case has existed for some 15 years dating to the late 1990s when the FBI began to have concerns about forensic hair experts who both provided testimony in cases and training for state experts. One such review was made of the testimony and reports of the FBI hair expert Michael Malone that were used in the Huffington trials, according to a series of articles published last year in the Washington Post. The series was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The Post series concluded thousands of criminal cases at the state and local levels "may have relied on exaggerated testimony or false forensic evidence to convict defendants of murder, rape and other felonies" and also noted that in many instances prosecutors were aware of the problem and did not convey the information to defense attorneys.

Evidence, testimony problems

Ryan Malone, Huffington's lawyer, said prosecutors were aware "there were problems" with the hair evidence from the 1999 review of the Huffington case's FBI expert testimony but did not turn the report over to Huffington's lawyers at the time. Malone, whose firm has represented Huffington for 12 years, said he learned about the evidence discrepancy in 2011 "when The Washington Post reported to us about it." They then followed up with the DNA testing of the hairs, he said.

With DNA testing now having proven the hairs in question weren't Huffington's, his lawyer said, "we know his [the FBI agent's] analysis to match head hairs was false." Malone added that in light of the discredited evidence, there is nothing to place Huffington at the scene of either murder other than the eyewitness testimony of Kanaras.

But Dwyer, citing the record of the Frederick County trial, also wrote that Kanaras' testimony "varied greatly from Kanaras' prior statements regarding the case. In fact, Kanaras had given several inconsistent accounts of his and Huffington's activities on May 24 and 25, 1981. The state itself did not believe any of events Kanaras testified to because the state prosecuted and convicted Kanaras for the murder of Diane Becker ..."

The judge's opinion likewise notes that during the trial, prosecutors admitted during a bench conference the eyewitness testimony of Kanaras was such that "a jury of twelve people was unwilling to believe him."