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Key witness in Douglas murder has criminal past

Jean Huden, shown here in a booking photo taken by police in Florida, is expected to be a main witness in the Russel Douglas murder trials. - Photo courtesy of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office
Jean Huden, shown here in a booking photo taken by police in Florida, is expected to be a main witness in the Russel Douglas murder trials.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office

Jean Huden, a key witness in the upcoming trials for the pair accused of the murder of Russel Douglas — and also the woman who led to the arrest of the suspected triggerman in the killing — is a convicted felon with a long history of drug possession and other crimes.

Douglas was killed just after Christmas 2003 as he sat in his car thinking he was waiting for a friend of his estranged wife to drop off a gift for her.

Authorities allege that James “Jim” Huden and his mistress, Peggy Sue Thomas, plotted to kill Douglas and lured him to his death at a remote property off Wahl Road. Officials have yet to say, however, why the pair wanted to kill the former Langley resident and father of two. The sole connection between the accused and the dead man that authorities have noted is the victim’s wife, Brenna Douglas, who once worked at a Langley hair salon with Thomas.

Jim Huden and Thomas have been charged with premeditated, first-degree murder. Thomas was released on bail Friday, and Huden remains in custody at the county jail in Coupeville awaiting a trial scheduled for Nov. 29.

Jean Huden, the wife of the accused gunman in the murder, is a likely witness at both trials.

Court records in Florida, however, show that Jean Huden has had a long and troubled history with the law, mostly related to drug offenses.

Most recently, she was arrested on 18 charges of check forgery and grand theft.

Since 2006, Huden has been found guilty of multiple charges of marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. Multiple other charges over that same time frame for possession of a controlled substance did not result in convictions, public records show.

According to the sheriff’s office in Charlotte County, Fla., Jean Huden has been arrested for possession of cocaine and also for trying to smuggle contraband into a detention facility.

Huden, 47, was born in Orange, N.J., and had been living with her husband, Jim Huden, in Punta Gorda, Fla., until he fled to Mexico in August 2004 amid continued questioning from detectives about Douglas’ murder.

Jean Huden’s switch from a police problem to a valuable informant happened just a few months ago, after her arrest on March 29 on 18 charges of passing forged checks and grand theft larceny. Nine charges were for “uttering a forged instrument,” with the other half for grand theft (theft of $300 or more, but less than $5,000).

At the time, Charlotte County detectives said Huden was caught after her victim noticed suspicious activity on her checking account.

Huden allegedly confessed to stealing checks from the woman, forging a signature and cashing them. Police later collected footage from surveillance cameras at the banks where the checks were cashed.

She later struck a deal with authorities, and Samantha Syoen with the Florida State Attorney’s Office said Huden was charged with one count of uttering forged bills.

The state reached a plea agreement and did not file on the other 17 charges, which were dropped July 8.

“This was, in part, due to the wishes of the victim who is a family member, who wished to seek other resolution,” Syoen said.

Huden pled “no contest” and was sentenced to 18 months of state probation and had to pay court costs and make restitution, Syoen said.

Members of the warrant squad of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office were credited with getting the information that led to Jim Huden’s arrest in Mexico, including details on his new identity, employment and location.

Police with the squad have not divulged any additional details, and declined a request to talk with a reporter.

Local authorities have not said when Jean Huden began helping detectives in the murder case.

In a probable cause certificate, filed in Island County Superior Court in early July, authorities said Jim Huden’s location was unknown until June 9, and that Jean Huden helped police find him.

Court records also say Jean Huden was helping her husband as he hid out in Mexico.

During her interviews with police the month before her husband was arrested, Jean Huden said both her husband and Thomas had told her they plotted and carried out the murder of Douglas.

She’d spoken directly with Thomas, a former beauty queen turned Las Vegas limo driver, more than once about the murder — in person, during visits to Nevada — because they both thought their phones were tapped.

According to court filings, an Island County detective interviewed Jean Huden on June 20 and 21 in Florida, and she admitted helping her husband while he was in Mexico by transferring funds to him, and said she also visited him several times and had once planned to move there to be with him.

According to court documents, she also tipped off police about where Jim Huden was hiding in Veracruz, Mexico, after seven years as a fugitive.

Authorities have been worried that Thomas and Jim Huden will contact Jean Huden, and Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks has asked the court to ban any contact as a condition of bail.

Thomas was released from jail Sept. 2. She is scheduled to face arraignment for first-degree murder on Sept. 26.

 

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