HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (AP) — A judge has ordered a new trial for a man serving two life sentences in the 1981 killing of a couple in Harford County during a drug deal.
Attorneys for John Norman Huffington had argued during a hearing in April that evidence used to convict him, including hair analysis, has been discredited. They said that without that evidence there is a substantial likelihood that a jury would not have convicted him.
One of Huffington’s attorneys, Ryan Malone, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he believes “the judge did the right thing” by ordering a new trial. He said the FBI agent that conducted the hair analysis was a “notorious fraud” and that there is “no question that the jury at the trial heard false testimony.”
“Our view is this confirms John Huffington’s innocence,” Malone said of the judge’s ruling, adding that he hopes that the state decides not to retry his client.
Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly, who prosecuted Huffington, said even without the hair evidence there was ample proof to convict him.
“The fact that there’s unaccounted for hair basically means nothing. If you eliminate that from the balance of the evidence you still have Huffington’s fingerprint on the bloody murder weapon,” Cassilly said.
Cassilly said he would ask the judge to re-consider his ruling and also plans an appeal. He said he would not let somebody he knows is guilty walk away and that he would try Huffington again if that’s what’s required.
Huffington was convicted of the May 1981 killing of Joseph Hudson and Hudson’s girlfriend, Diane Becker. Prosecutors said at trial that Huffington shot Hudson during a drug deal then returned to a motor home Hudson and Becker shared, where he hit Becker in the head with a vodka bottle and then stabbed her with a knife. A friend of Huffington’s who was also involved in the drug deal, Deno Kanaras, testified against him at trial.
Prosecutors also used hair analysis to link Huffington to the motor home. An FBI agent testified that hairs found where Becker was killed were “indistinguishable” from hairs taken from Huffington’s head. He said the hair analysis he conducted had an accuracy rate of 99.89 percent.
In April 2013, however, DNA analysis of two hairs recovered from the crime scene revealed they did not match Huffington.
In ordering a new trial, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. wrote that “there is a significant possibility” that the case’s outcome may have been different had prosecutors not relied on the hair analysis evidence and the testimony of the FBI agent who conducted it. The judge wrote in a 16-page ruling that prosecutors mentioned the hair analysis in their opening statement and it was the first piece of evidence prosecutors talked about in their closing arguments.
A type of bullet analysis used during the trial has also been discredited, the judge said, and would not be allowed in any new trial.
Huffington’s first trial was held in Caroline County, but that conviction was reversed on appeal. His second trial was moved to Frederick County.
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)