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Thomas enters plea of not guilty in 2003 Freeland murder
COUPEVILLE — The former hairdresser and beauty queen who has been charged as an accomplice in the 2003 murder of a Langley man entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder Monday in Island County Superior Court.
Detectives claim that Peggy Sue Thomas, 46, lured Russel Douglas to his death the day after Christmas in 2003 with a promise of a gift for his estranged wife, Brenna.
Authorities allege that Douglas was shot once in the head by James "Jim" Huden, who remains in Island County jail on $5 million bond after his arrest this summer in Mexico.
The arraignment lasted less than five minutes, and Thomas did not speak. Her plea was entered by her attorney, Craig Platt of Coupeville.
Thomas entered the courtroom flanked by her mother, Doris Matz. Thomas has been living at Matz's home in Langley since making bail in September.
Thomas returned last week from a controversial, 3,500-mile road trip, where she visited five other states while running errands and getting her affairs in order. Platt said the trip was necessary so Thomas could retrieve items that would help her defense from her former home in New Mexico.
Thomas sat with her mother in the second row of the courtroom benches before her hearing, chewing gum and appearing relaxed and slightly tan.
A trial date has been set for Jan. 24.
Douglas was found in the front seat of his Chevrolet Tracker by a couple walking their dog near Wahl Road on Dec. 27, 2003.
Authorities claim that Huden, the accused gunman, had never met Douglas before his Christmastime visit to Whidbey Island with Thomas, his mistress, in 2003.
Thomas knew the murder victim through his wife, Brenna Douglas. Thomas and Douglas worked together at her Langley hair salon, called Just B's, and detectives have investigated Douglas as a possible third suspect in the killing. She has not been charged and no longer lives on Whidbey.
Police recovered the weapon used in the murder, a Bersa "Thunder" .380-caliber handgun registered to Huden, in 2004 after he gave it to a friend in Las Vegas, Nev. for safekeeping. A fingerprint from Thomas was later found on the operating manual for the pistol.
Authorities also allege that Thomas and Huden concocted an elaborate alibi, with Huden getting a receipt from a South Whidbey store that would show he was buying cigarettes at the time of the murder.
Early in the investigation, in August 2004, police searched Thomas' home in Las Vegas and seized evidence. They also searched her car, a Lexus LS 400, that Huden drove to Washington and the pair used while on Whidbey during their 2003 visit.
Detectives also interviewed Huden's wife in Florida, who admitted helping her husband while he was on the run from the law in Mexico. Jean Huden allegedly told police she had often talked with Thomas in the years following the murder while her husband was in Mexico, and that she had met with Thomas in person because they thought police had wiretapped the phone at her Las Vegas home.
Jean Huden also said both her husband and Thomas had told her they plotted Douglas' murder and killed him, with Thomas telling the killer's wife they talked about "how to get Russel to where they needed him to be and take care of it."
Jean Huden also said that Thomas was the one who went to the store to get cigarettes, while Huden went to go murder Douglas.
Thomas, however, allegedly told detectives in September 2004 that Huden had confessed to killing Douglas after he went out to buy cigarettes during their last day on Whidbey in 2003. That admission came just after Huden had fled to Mexico and police served a search warrant to go through Thomas' home in Henderson, Nev.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Thomas faces a possible sentence of approximately 31 years in prison.