Maryland panel OKs $2.9M compensation for wrongfully convicted man who spent 32 years behind bars

Jul 5, 2023, 11:58 AM

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, center, talks to Treasurer Dereck Davis during a meeting of the Board of P...

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, center, talks to Treasurer Dereck Davis during a meeting of the Board of Public Works, which approved $2.9 million in compensation, Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Annapolis, Md., for John Huffington, who was wrongly imprisoned for 32 years, including a decade spent on death row, for two murders he did not commit. Comptroller Brooke Lierman, who is a board member with Moore and Davis, is seated right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

(AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland board approved $2.9 million in compensation Wednesday for a man who was wrongly imprisoned for 32 years, including a decade on death row, for two murders he did not commit.

John Huffington was pardoned by former Gov. Larry Hogan in January. The former governor cited prosecutorial misconduct in granting a full innocence pardon for Huffington in connection with a 1981 double slaying in Harford County.

On Wednesday, the Board of Public Works — comprised of Gov. Wes Moore, Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis — approved the compensation package.

“He was robbed of time being spent away from family and loved ones, holidays, birthdays, missed milestones, opportunities denied — injustice, time and time again,” Moore said in apologizing to Huffington, who attended the board meeting.

Moore noted the work that Huffington has done to raise awareness about flaws in the criminal justice system, through speeches and a book about his experiences.

“John has become a friend,” Moore said. “I’m thankful not just because he is willing to share his story, but he’s been willing to take his pain and turn it into service.”

The governor also noted that since his release Huffington has worked as a manager at Second Chance, a nonprofit that helps people with barriers to employment. He also worked in job training and reentry programs at the Living Classrooms Foundation. He is now the chief operating officer at the Kinetic Capital Community Foundation, which works to promote income equality in Baltimore.

Huffington always maintained his innocence. He was released from Patuxent Institution in 2013 after serving 32 years of two life sentences.

He was convicted twice in the killings known as the “Memorial Day Murders.” Diane Becker was stabbed to death in her recreational vehicle, while her 4-year-old son, who was inside, was not harmed. Joseph Hudson, Becker’s boyfriend, was fatally shot and found a few miles (kilometers) away. A second suspect in the slayings testified against Huffington, was convicted of first-degree murder, and served 27 years.

Prosecutors relied on testimony that was later discredited about hair found at the murder scene matching Huffington’s.

He appealed his first conviction in 1981. In 1983, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to death. Prosecutors later commuted that sentence to two life terms.

Questions about evidence in the case arose when The Washington Post uncovered an FBI report in 2011 that found the FBI agent who analyzed hair evidence in Huffington’s case may not have used reliable science, or even tested the hair at all. The report had been written in 1999, but Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly chose not to provide it to Huffington’s lawyers.

A Frederick County judge vacated Huffington’s convictions and ordered a new trial in 2013 after Huffington presented new evidence using DNA testing that was not available during his earlier trials. When the hair evidence was tested for DNA more than 30 years later, the results showed it was not Huffington’s hair.

Maryland’s highest court unanimously voted to disbar Cassilly in 2021. The court found he withheld exculpatory evidence in the 1981 double murder and lied about it in the following years. Cassilly had retired in 2019. Cassilly maintained he did nothing wrong.

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Maryland panel OKs $2.9M compensation for wrongfully convicted man who spent 32 years behind bars