23 February 2023 :
(Feb 22, 2023) - John Huffington, Former Death Row Prisoner, Exonerated After 40 Years
On January 13, 2023, outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan granted a full pardon to Huffington, stating that evidence conclusively showed that his “convictions were in error.”
After many appeals and two death sentences, Huffington eventually entered an “Alford Plea” in 2017, which led to a reduced sentence and eventually his release. This type of plea is used when a defendant maintains their innocence but concedes that existing evidence might result in their being found guilty. Without more, DPIC has not included such cases in its Innocence List because the underlying conviction stands. In this case, however, the governor’s full pardon based on wrongful convictions wipes away that determination of guilt. Huffington is the 191st death row prisoner to be exonerated since 1973.
Joseph Cassilly, the former prosecutor in Huffington’s case, was disbarred in 2021 for his actions in this and other cases. In Huffington’s case, hair found at the scene of the crime was identified using a discredited method that falsely concluded it was microscopically identical to Huffington’s hair. The FBI and the Department of Justice reviewed Huffington’s case and determined that the forensic evidence was scientifically inaccurate. Cassilly, however, withheld this exculpatory evidence from Huffington’s attorneys.
Attorneys from the Ropes & Gray law firm represented Huffington on a pro bono basis for more than 30 years. When the pardon was finally granted, Huffington stated, “I have fought for over 40 years for this day, and I feel a deep sense of closure and vindication. This pardon officially acknowledges that I was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for crimes I never committed.” Huffington was released from prison in 2013 pending a retrial, which was then never held again because the public prosecution withdrew the charges. Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013.