Former friends share details in Douglas murder trial

Accused murderer James Huden sits next to his attorney, Matt Montoya, as his trial proceeds in Island County Superior Court. The alleged killer seldom looked up, spending most of his time apparently writing in a notebook.  - Ben Watanabe / Whidbey News-Times
Accused murderer James Huden sits next to his attorney, Matt Montoya, as his trial proceeds in Island County Superior Court. The alleged killer seldom looked up, spending most of his time apparently writing in a notebook.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Whidbey News-Times

Bill Hill waited a few months before he called the Island County Sheriff’s office back in 2004.

He had sensitive information that his former friend James Huden, whom Island County prosecutors allege shot Russel Douglas in the head in Dec. 2003, told him of the incident during a car drive together. Hill lived with the information for months, he told Prosecutor Greg Banks, Judge Vickie Churchill, the jury and gallery at Island County Superior Court, out of fear and out of loyalty to his friend.

“I wasn’t so sure I was gonna spill the beans or not,” Hill said, taking a deep breath and looking down. “He’s my best friend.”

Huden’s trial started last week for murdering Douglas more than eight years ago in a secluded area of Freeland. The prosecution alleged Huden and an accomplice, Peggy Sue Thomas, lured Douglas to a driveway off Wahl Road on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, in 2003. Then, from about six inches away, Huden shot Douglas in the head.

At the time, Huden was living in Punta Gorda, Fla., and was on Whidbey Island to see Thomas, his mistress. Through his relationship with Thomas, Banks said in his opening statements, Huden came to believe Douglas was an abusive father and husband to Brenna Douglas, who owned a hair salon Thomas worked at.

The murder, Banks argued, was a way for Huden to avenge his own abusive childhood. Hill supported the prosecution’s argument when he shared that Huden and he became close friends (acquainted well enough for Hill to fly to Las Vegas to walk Jean Huden down the aisle in Jim and Jean Huden’s wedding). Their shared interests in music, similar migration from the West Coast to Florida, service in the U.S. Air Force and stories of growing up in  abusive households brought Hill and Huden together. It was while driving along the Gulf Coast from Punta Gorda to Sarasota, Fla., Hill said, that Huden told him about killing Russel Douglas.

“Then (Huden) said, ‘You know my stepfather used to beat me and my mother, I always hated that man with a passion and wanted to find somebody who fit that M.O,’” Hill said. “Then he said that they did find a person that fit the M.O. and said that they murdered him, that he was an abuser of some sort.”

Hill finally called the Island County Sheriff’s office in Aug. 2004 as an anonymous inquirer about the Douglas murder. He asked Sgt. Mike Beech if there was an unsolved murder from Christmastime 2003, divulged some information then ended the call. After a couple of more abrupt calls, the sheriff’s office had deduced the caller was one of two people in Huden’s former band, Buck Naked and the X-hibitionists.

A cryptic last conversation between Hill and Huden led Hill to turn his “best friend” in to law enforcement. During a visit in 2004, the two men had lunch together during Hill’s break. Hill complained about his boss, and Hill recalled Huden asking if he wanted the boss to be “taken care of,” and that, “He said, ‘Well, I’ve done it once, I could do it again.’”

When the trial resumed Monday, July 16, several former friends and acquaintances took the stand for the prosecution. Cynthia “Cindy” Francisco said she met Huden through Thomas, another South Whidbey resident. Thomas lived with Francisco at her Wahl Road home for a few weeks, though Francisco said Huden had never been to her home.

“We just all hung out together,” Francisco said. “We were all just good friends.”

The murder weapon was vouched for by the original owner and Huden’s former friend in Las Vegas. Keith Ogden, a retired corrections deputy, met Huden through his cousin in 2003. Ogden testified to showing Huden how to clean and use the Bersa .380 semiautomatic handgun he recently purchased, and also how to silence it with an empty, plastic soda bottle or pillow.

“That made it very quiet,” Ogden said.

Martin Snytsheuvel, a Las Vegas resident, testified that he purchased the gun in Oct. 2003, but quickly disliked the weapon and asked his father to put an advertisement in the newspaper, from which it was sold.

One of Huden’s friends since childhood, Richard Deposit, said Huden stayed at his vacation home in the Useless Bay Colony during Christmastime 2003 and left before Christmas. The two South Whidbey-raised young men had been friends since fourth grade and played football for the Langley High School Falcons. Matt Montoya, Huden’s attorney, asked Deposit if he ever heard Huden talk about an abusive childhood or saw alarming bruises, for example, when the team showered after football games. No, Deposit said, though Banks had Deposit point out that they regularly had bruises from football practices and games.

Another former friend, Bill Marlow, said he planned to see Huden and Thomas on Dec. 23. Marlow was a musician in a couple of bands, and wanted Huden to join one of their practices/jam sessions in Port Hadlock and had to move the usual Wednesday night practice up a night because it was Christmas Eve in 2003.

“And then he didn’t show up,” Marlow said.

Rick Earley met Huden through his childhood neighbor. He described their relationship as less than friends and more like acquaintances. On his way to see friends in the Puget Sound area from his home in Lake Oswego, Ore., during Christmas 2003, he met with Thomas and Huden in Southwest Washington near Kelso or Longview at a hotel restaurant. Banks presented the receipt from that evening that was time stamped 7:41 p.m. Dec. 26, 2003.

The state was expected to rest its case either Tuesday or Wednesday, as was the defense.


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