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Maryland Approves $2.9M Compensation for John Huffington’s Wrongful Murder Conviction

Practices: Litigation Tags: Pro Bono

John N. Huffington served 32 years in prison for crimes he did not commit—10 on death row. On July 5, the Maryland Board of Public Works, in a hearing led by Maryland Governor Wes Moore, approved a $2.9 million compensation package for Mr. Huffington.    

“I was wrongfully incarcerated for 11,575 days and no dollar amount will ever make up for the time loss being spent with my family and loved ones; but I was also robbed the opportunity to grow a career and establish a pension and retirement,” Mr. Huffington said. “The money will help as I seek stability in my older age.”   

photo credit: The Office of Governor Wes Moore

Mr. Huffington sought redress under Maryland’s “Walter Lomax Act,” which allows the state to grant financial compensation for the length of time an exoneree was wrongfully incarcerated as well as other benefits, including a state identification card, housing accommodations for up to five years, health and dental care, educational training and reimbursement for court fees. Ropes & Gray successfully petitioned the state of Maryland to obtain both financial compensation and related benefits.

“If you had asked me years ago when I started working on this case, if I could imagine being where we are now, I would have frankly said it was a real longshot,” said Chong S. Park, partner in Ropes & Gray’s Washington, D.C. office and counsel to Mr. Huffington. “Obtaining both a full innocence pardon and compensation is real justice. John was wrongfully convicted, put on death row, and subject to outrageous prosecutorial misconduct. For thirty-four years, Ropes & Gray has doggedly sought justice for John, and we are so happy we have been able to help him obtain the future he deserves.”

“Your presence here today frankly serves as a reminder that our state has not always gotten it right, but we are always going to keep searching to make sure that we do,” Governor Wes Moore said while addressing Mr. Huffington during Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. “Bless you, John, and thank you so much. And on behalf of the entire State of Maryland, we are deeply, deeply sorry.”

photo credit: The Office of Governor Wes Moore

In 1981, Mr. Huffington was wrongfully convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, in large part based on hair evidence found at the crime scene. In 2013, DNA testing proved that the hair was not Mr. Huffington’s. The Circuit Court for Frederick County, Maryland subsequently granted Mr. Huffington’s petition for a writ of actual innocence, vacated his murder convictions, and ordered a new trial.

However, despite the discrediting of its key evidence, the prosecution continued to pursue the case. In 2017, Mr. Huffington submitted an Alford plea, a special type of plea by which the defendant asserts his innocence and does not admit to the charged act, while acknowledging that a plea is in his best interests. Mr. Huffington has always maintained his innocence of the charged offenses. However, the Alford plea resulted in a judicial conviction that actively hindered his success—in the personal, professional, and financial spheres.

A key reason for the Alford plea was the conduct of the state’s attorney, Joseph Cassilly, who violated his ethical and prosecutorial obligations. On October 22, 2021, following a petition from the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to disbar Mr. Cassilly, finding that Mr. Cassilly lied to the court and deliberately concealed exculpatory evidence in Mr. Huffington’s case.

In January 2023, then-Governor Larry Hogan vindicated Mr. Huffington’s decades-long quest to clear his name by granting a full innocence pardon. Shortly thereafter, Ropes & Gray filed a petition for compensation under the Walter Lomax Act, which ultimately led to Wednesday’s compensation award. Shortly thereafter, Ropes & Gray filed a petition for compensation under the Walter Lomax Act, which ultimately led to the compensation award.

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