COUPEVILLE, Wash. — All the waiting is over for the family of Russel Douglas.
James Edward Huden was found guilty Monday, July 23, of murdering Douglas in December 2003.
An Island County Superior Court jury unanimously agreed Huden was guilty of the murder with “aggravating circumstances” of using a firearm on a “particularly vulnerable victim” Monday morning.
Judge Vickie Churchill read the verdict at 11:15 a.m. to a courtroom packed with the Douglas family, absent his two teenage children and widow, Brenna Douglas, along with Dateline NBC and court staff. The jury ruled that Russel Douglas was vulnerable at the time because he was seated and buckled in his Chevrolet Geo Tracker when he pulled onto a driveway off Wahl Road in Freeland, where Huden shot him in the head.Ben Watanabe / The Record | A crew working for Dateline NBC sits up front at Island County Superior Court during the James Huden trial.
After the verdict was read, the courtroom remained silent save for a few sniffles from the Douglas family, which was present for the duration of the eight-day trial. Huden barely reacted, keeping his head lowered while the verdict was read.
The couple of weeks in the courtroom were short compared to the wait the Douglas family experienced over the past eight years. Huden evaded custody in August 2004 when Hurricane Charlie hit Florida, and fled to Veracruz, Mexico where he became known as Maestro Jim, a music teacher. U.S. Marshals brought Huden into custody June 9, 2011 after being arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“Great, it’s just terrific,” said Jim Douglas, the father of the victim. “We appreciate everything the prosecutor’s office has done. They’ve treated us tremendously well. We’re extremely grateful for the jury; no one relishes sitting on a murder trial.”
“It’s a real relief.”
Huden, 59, will remain in custody in Island County jail without bail until the sentencing hearing at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he would recommend an exceptional sentence, which could put Huden in jail for close to 32 years, because of the premeditated nature of the crime.
“A 31-year sentence does not come close to accounting for the malevolence of this crime,” Banks said.
Banks called the crime an assassination, in which he proposed Huden and his accomplice, Peggy Thomas (to be tried Nov. 13), lured Douglas to a remote area of Freeland. Douglas drove to Wahl Road, looking for the dirt driveway where he would retrieve a gift for his wife, and instead was shot between the eyes while wearing a pair of blue sunglasses that fragmented and scattered in the car.
One of the reasons for the duration of the case, though it was shorter than Banks initially projected, was the number of witnesses the state called upon. More than 20 witnesses — the victim’s widow, Huden’s former friends and acquaintances, Wahl Road residents, forensics experts and police — from across the country converged on Coupeville to testify for the prosecution’s case.
Brenna Douglas testified about her husband leaving the morning of Dec. 26, 2003 to run errands and never returning, and also addressed a restraining order against her then-estranged husband she had inquired about with Island County Sheriff’s deputies. Their marriage was not perfect, she said, and explained that at times Douglas’ frustrations would get the better of him, leading to thrown chairs and yelling. Their relationship was improving, she testified, at the time he was gunned down.
A former friend of Huden’s who knew him when he lived in Punta Gorda, Fla., cracked the case for Island County investigators. He called the sheriff’s office in August 2004 and asked about a murder around Christmas 2003, and said he may know who did it. Bill Hill, a Port Charlotte, Fla., resident on the Gulf Coast, had played with Huden in a band, Buck Naked and the X-hibitionists. One day while driving north to Sarasota, Fla., Huden told Hill about murdering Douglas, and inferred it was a revenge killing of sorts for Huden’s abusive childhood.
Another former friend, Keith Ogden, further propelled the investigation when he called the sheriff’s office and said he may have the murder weapon, a Bersa .380 semiautomatic handgun. The two men met while Huden lived in Las Vegas, and Ogden had shown Huden how to disassemble, clean and fire the pistol in Ogden’s backyard. Ogden also testified he instructed Huden how to suppress the noise of the pistol with a pillow or plastic soda bottle.
Ogden turned the weapon over to the police, who were able to trace it back to the original owner, Martin Snytshuevel, who also lived in Las Vegas and said his dad sold the gun for him through an advertisement in a newspaper.