The Maryland Board Approves $2.9 Million Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted Man
John Huffington, a man who spent 32 years behind bars, including a decade on death row, for two murders he did not commit, has been granted $2.9 million in compensation by the Maryland Board of Public Works. Former Governor Larry Hogan had pardoned Huffington in January, citing prosecutorial misconduct in connection with a 1981 double slaying in Harford County. The board, consisting of Governor Wes Moore, Comptroller Brooke Lierman, and Treasurer Dereck Davis, unanimously approved the compensation package.
During the board meeting, Governor Moore expressed his apologies to John Huffington for the injustice he had suffered, stating, “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 acknowledged Huffington’s efforts in raising awareness about flaws in the criminal justice system, mentioning his speeches and the book he wrote about his experiences. He thanked Huffington for his commitment to turning his pain into service.
Moore also highlighted Huffington’s contributions since his release. Huffington has been working as a manager at Second Chance, a nonprofit organization helping individuals facing employment barriers. He has also been involved in job training and reentry programs at the Living Classrooms Foundation. Currently, Huffington serves as the chief operating officer at the Kinetic Capital Community Foundation, which strives to promote income equality in Baltimore.
Throughout his ordeal, John Huffington consistently maintained his innocence. He was finally released from the Patuxent Institution in 2013, having served 32 years for two life sentences. His convictions were related to the “Memorial Day Murders”—the slaying of Diane Becker, who was stabbed to death in her recreational vehicle, with her 4-year-old son inside unharmed, and the fatal shooting of Joseph Hudson, Becker’s boyfriend, found a few miles away. Another suspect in the case testified against Huffington, was convicted, and served 27 years.
Prosecutors mainly relied on discredited testimony regarding hair found at the murder scene that allegedly matched Huffington’s. The first conviction was appealed in 1981, but in 1983, a jury found Huffington guilty of first-degree murder, resulting in a death sentence that was later commuted to two life terms.
In 2011, doubts about the evidence surfaced when The Washington Post uncovered an FBI report indicating that the agent who analyzed the hair evidence in Huffington’s case had relied on unreliable science, possibly failing to test the hair at all. Although written in 1999, the report was not provided to Huffington’s lawyers by Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly. It was not until 2013, when Huffington presented new evidence using DNA testing that wasn’t available during his earlier trials, that a Frederick County judge vacated his convictions and ordered a new trial. Subsequent DNA testing conducted more than three decades after the crime conclusively proved that the hair did not belong to Huffington.
In 2021, Maryland’s highest court unanimously voted to disbar Joseph Cassilly, the former Harford County State’s Attorney, for withholding exculpatory evidence and lying about it over the years. Cassilly had retired in 2019 but maintained his innocence, asserting that he had done nothing wrong.
The compensation granted to John Huffington is a significant step towards acknowledging and rectifying the grave injustice he endured for over three decades. It serves as a reminder of the shortcomings of the criminal justice system and the importance of ensuring fair and transparent proceedings to avoid similar miscarriages of justice in the future.
By Brian Witte