After spending more than 30 years in prison — including time on death row — for murders he did not commit, John Huffington finally received an apology Wednesday, as well as nearly $3 million in compensation from the state.
Huffington was wrongly convicted for what became known as the Memorial Day Murders in Harford County in 1981, when a woman was found beaten dead in a camper home in a recreational vehicle park and her boyfriend shot dead a few miles away.
Huffington was one of two men tried for the murders, with prosecutors alleging the friends killed the couple over cocaine and cash.
Prosecutors tried Huffington twice, and both times the convictions were reversed. The prosecution was flawed, relying on an FBI agent who had a history of false testimony and inaccurate analysis of hair evidence. Huffington was released from prison in 2013.
While awaiting a third trial in 2017, Huffington agreed to enter an Alford plea, in which he maintained his innocence but accepted a conviction. He was sentenced to time served and put on a brief probation.
Huffington was pardoned earlier this year by then-Gov. Larry Hogan, a necessary step to allow him to seek compensation from the state.
Reviews of the case continued and the state disbarred the now-retired prosecutor, Joseph Cassilly, in 2021. A state appeals court that handles attorney misconduct cases found that Cassilly lied about documents related to the FBI agent’s lack of credibility, did not disclose other evidence and discarded evidence.
Huffington was granted compensation under the Walter Lomax Act, a relatively new state law that defines how much money people can receive for being wrongly incarcerated. Huffington spent 11,575 days behind bars for crimes he did not commit.
As the state Board of Public Works voted to approve a payment plan to Huffington totaling nearly $3 million on Wednesday, he was recognized and applauded, but he chose not to speak. The award included about $2.9 million for the time spent behind bars and $89,100 in housing assistance.
Gov. Wes Moore praised Huffington for building a life for himself after being released, including writing a book and working for nonprofit organizations.
“John, I cannot say enough how inspired I am by you, how grateful I am for you, how sorry I am for what you had to go through. But how amazed by the power that you have to turn this experience into something that we as a state should and will learn from,” said Moore, a Democrat.
Moore said the state is “deeply, deeply sorry” for Huffington’s experience.
Comptroller Brooke Lierman, also a Democrat, said she, too, is impressed by Huffington’s resilience.
“I recognize that no dollar amount can ever make up for what was stolen from you, but I hope that today’s action brings some solace, some vindication,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see you living life to its full potential.”