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Accused killer gets new lawyer

James “Jim” Huden glances at his new lawyer, Matthew Montoya of Oak Harbor, as the attorney asks for a delay in Huden
James “Jim” Huden glances at his new lawyer, Matthew Montoya of Oak Harbor, as the attorney asks for a delay in Huden's first-degree murder trial in Island County Superior Court Friday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

COUPEVILLE — The former fugitive accused of gunning down a Langley man more than eight years ago asked a Superior Court judge for a new lawyer during a short hearing Friday.

James “Jim” Huden has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Russel Douglas, a former Whidbey Island resident who was found shot dead in a wooded area south of Freeland at Christmastime 2003. Police arrested Huden as the gunman in the crime last year in Mexico, where Huden had been hiding out for more than six years under a fake name.

In Island County Superior Court late this week, Peter Simpson, Huden’s court-appointed attorney, asked to have himself removed from the case so Oak Harbor attorney Matthew Montoya could take over.

Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill agreed to the switch, which was then immediately followed by a request from Montoya to have the trial pushed back to the fall.

Prosecutor Greg Banks, however, expressed concern.

“Boy, your honor, we’ve been working on the assumption we’ll have a March 13 trial. Those dates work for us,” Banks said.

Churchill was initially reluctant to move the trial back so far, given that Montoya had not yet reviewed the case file.

But Montoya said he knew the case materials were extensive. He also said Huden had agreed to give up his right to a speedy trial.

Churchill then agreed to the postponement.

Huden’s trial will be pushed back nearly eight months, to Oct. 2. It’s expected to take 10 days.

Authorities have not yet given a detailed motive for the Douglas murder.

Peggy Sue Thomas, Huden’s former mistress, has been charged with first-degree murder as an accomplice in the killing. Police said Thomas, who worked with the murdered man’s estranged wife at her Langley hair salon, helped lure Douglas to the scene of his death with the promise of a Christmas gift for his wife.

Douglas’s wife, Brenna, has been investigated as a third suspect in the killing but has not been charged.

The trial for Thomas is set to start May 1.

After the hearing, Montoya declined to discuss the reasons for the change in attorneys.

“I have to talk to my client about that first,” he said. “At this point I can’t really say anything.”

Banks said later he was prepared for a March trial.

“We were ready,” he said.

Now, the murder trial for Thomas will be held first.

Banks said that whoever went to trial first — Thomas or Huden — made no difference.

“I don’t think it really matters,” Banks said. “We’re going to end up trying much of the same case twice.”

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