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Accused South Whidbey murderer pleads guilty to lesser offense
A former beauty queen pleaded guilty to a plea-bargained charge Thursday, less than a week before she was scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder.
Peggy Sue Thomas, 47, will likely face four years in prison when she’s sentenced Feb. 15 in Island County Superior Court.
Thomas pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance in the first degree, with a special allegation that she or her accomplice was armed with a firearm during the commission of the crime. The firearms allegation adds an automatic three years to the sentence.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said in court that the trial posed “a substantial risk” for both the prosecution and defense. He said his case was based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay testimony. The judge had still not ruled on whether the prosecutor would be able to present crucial evidence to the jury, while a vital witness was recently admitted to a hospital.
“I believe there are items of evidence that will probably never see the light of day that convinced me my case is just,” he said.
Rather than risk an acquittal or a hung jury, Banks agreed to the plea bargain. He said the family of the victim, 32-year-old Russel Douglas, approved of the deal.
Thomas appeared glum, but otherwise showed little emotion during the hearing. Her attorney, Craig Platt, chose not to speak about the plea bargain.
Banks will recommend that the judge impose a four-year sentence, which is the maximum under the standard range.
The plea bargain was an anticlimactic end to a family’s tragedy and a complex whodunnit that detectives with the Island County Sheriff’s Office unraveled over a matter of years.
Douglas was found dead, buckled in the front seat of his Chevrolet Tracker, next to a wooded driveway on Wahl Road near Freeland two days after Christmas of 2003. The father of two had been shot in the head.
Detectives developed evidence that James “Jim” Huden was the shooter. He was charged with first-degree murder in 2005.
Huden was on the lam until the U.S. Marshal’s Service arrested him in Mexico in June 2011. After the arrest, Detective Mark Plumberg interviewed other witnesses who implicated Huden’s mistress, Peggy Sue Thomas, in the murder.
Investigators claimed that Thomas lured Douglas to the remote area with the promise of a gift, according to court documents. Instead, Huden shot him in the head.
Huden was convicted of first-degree murder following a trial last summer and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Yet his motive for the crime and connection to Douglas remained rather nebulous. Huden and Thomas were lovers; Thomas worked with Douglas’ wife, Brenna Douglas, at a Langley beauty salon.
When asked if Thomas’ plea agreement involved her cooperation in a case against Brenna Douglas, Banks said he refused to comment about that.
Banks argued at trial that Huden believed Russel Douglas was abusive to his children and Huden murdered him as revenge for his own abuse as a child at the hands of his stepfather.
Huden allegedly told his wife and his friend, Bill Hill, about Thomas’ involvement in the murder. Yet Huden refused to implicate her in court, even when presented with a plea bargain that would have reduced his sentence.
Members of the victim’s family begged Huden in during his sentence hearing to explain the motive, but he remained silent.