ANNAPOLIS – A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the murder convictions of John Norman Huffington, who brutally killed two Harford County residents in drug-related attacks during the 1981 Memorial Day weekend.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Huffington — who is serving two life sentences for the murders of Edgewood residents Joseph Hudson and Diane Becker — had received an adequate defense at his last trial.
Court documents said that Huffington and Deno Kanaras were looking to buy cocaine when they approached Hudson on May 25, 1981, at the Golden Forty, a nightclub where Hudson worked.
After Hudson sold them 3.5 grams of cocaine, Huffington convinced Hudson that he had another buyer. Hudson left a note in his trailer for his girlfriend, Becker, and the three men then drove to an old farmhouse on Wheel Road.
Once there, Huffington pulled out a gun and shot Hudson in the back four or five times, then shot him twice in the head at point-blank range. Huffington took the rest of Hudson’s cocaine, Kanaras later testified, then turned the gun on him and made him drive to Hudson’s trailer.
At the trailer, Huffington destroyed the note Hudson had left, then stabbed Becker 33 times, beat her with a vodka bottle and stole approximately $1,000, all while Hudson’s 4-year-old son slept in another room.
Kanaras was convicted in 1982 for his part in Hudson’s death. He is serving a life sentence.
Huffington’s trial was moved to Caroline County, where he was convicted in 1981 and sentenced to the gas chamber. That conviction was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals, and Huffington was again convicted and sentenced to death in 1984.
On a subsequent appeal, Huffington’s death sentence was vacated. Prosecutors declined to press for death a third time and he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
“This case has gone through many layers in the court systems,” said Assistant Attorney General Gwynn Kinsey Jr., who argued against Huffington’s appeal.
Besides his two trials, Huffington has pursued eight appeals, including one that was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Huffington claimed in his latest appeal that his defense counsel in the second trial had not effectively argued his case.
In his second trial, in Frederick Circuit Court, the defense failed to call a key witness, did not investigate other witnesses and was not prepared to challenge the states’ physical evidence, his new lawyers said.
But the appeals court said Tuesday that those arguments were not enough reason to overturn Huffington’s conviction again.
“Viewing the evidence as a whole, including any errors, our confidence in the outcome of the trial remains undisturbed,” the court wrote.
Huffington’s attorneys said Thursday they had not decided whether to appeal the decision any further.
“We’re disappointed,” said Steven Baughman, who argued Huffington’s case in appellate court. “We’re reviewing our options.”