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On trial for murder: Widow, police, experts testify in Huden trial

Accused murderer James Huden sits next to his attorney, Matt Montoya, as his trial proceeds in Island County Superior Court. The alleged killer seldom looked up, spending most of his time apparently writing in a notebook.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Accused murderer James Huden sits next to his attorney, Matt Montoya, as his trial proceeds in Island County Superior Court. The alleged killer seldom looked up, spending most of his time apparently writing in a notebook.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

COUPEVILLE — The widow of Russel Douglas, who was murdered in December 2003, testified Wednesday in Island County Superior Court.

Brenna Douglas addressed her relationship with her then-estranged husband, a period which she descried as strained at times. She took the stand along with a handful of Island County law enforcement officers and forensics experts in the trial of James Huden, who Island County prosecutors allege was the triggerman who shot Russel Douglas in the head the day after Christmas more than eight years ago.

In his opening statements, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks argued Huden’s motive for shooting Douglas was to satisfy his own troubled past, one with an abusive stepfather.

Huden, dressed in a striped gray suit and wearing his hair in a pony tail, rarely looked up from the table and his notepad, which he appeared to be writing in during testimony.

“This is about an assassination,” Banks said. “This case is about the assassination of Russel Douglas the day after Christmas.”

“He didn’t even know Mr. Douglas,” Banks said, referring to Huden.

The scene as depicted in photographs displayed to the jury was innocuous until the pictures showed the driver’s seat of Douglas’ Geo Tracker that he was found dead in. Island County Coroner Robert Bishop, the county’s elected coroner for 17 years, explained some of the details of his photographs. As each photo was shown on the projector screen, Huden took to his notepad, only glancing at the enlarged images.

Blood covered Douglas’ shirt, ran down his jeans and across his right thigh. The keys were still in the ignition, the manual window on the driver’s side was rolled down about one-third of the way. Blood was smeared on the top of the steering wheel and on the seat belt near the retractor. Bright red blood drops were on his left and right hands, his left in his lap, his right dropped to his side near the engaged emergency break. So much blood had exited the wound in Douglas’ forehead that it saturated his clothing on the seat and pooled, Bishop said.

“It’s pooling because the material there is saturated,” the coroner said.

Blue-framed sunglasses Douglas was wearing when he was shot were splintered by the impact. Fragments were found inside the car: a lens on the passenger seat, half of the frame on the driver’s floor board, a piece on his shoulder, and another lens half on the rear driver-side floor.

All the pieces of the scene added to one picture for Bishop: Douglas was murdered while sitting in the driver’s seat.

“I feel very strongly that he was seated where he was at the time of the wound,” Bishop said.

Banks outlined the state’s case by its witnesses and what they would tell the jury. Key to Banks’ argument that Huden shot Russel Douglas as a form of homicidal catharsis was introducing the perception that Douglas was in some way abusive to his family.

The nature of Brenna Douglas’ relationship with her deceased husband was critical for Banks. She had filed a restraining order long before the Dec. 26, 2003 murder, and told friends and family that her husband was verbally and physically abusive. He threw chairs in their Furman Avenue home in Langley, she said, and yelled at her and their two children, at the time 5 and 9 years old.

“He had a lot of issues and wasn’t always the best at dealing with them,” Brenna Douglas said.

Huden’s attorney Matt Montoya cross-examined Brenna Douglas. He questioned whether she told anyone of reconciliation efforts between Russel and herself in the months prior to the murder. She said she had not told others about their attempts to repair their marriage.

The day Russel Douglas was murdered, he left his family to run errands, Brenna Douglas said. When he didn’t return by nightfall, had not called and did not answer his cell phone, she assumed he returned to his apartment in Renton, where he resided while they were separated.

“He never came back,” Banks said.

A pair of  Wahl Road residents, Diane Bailey and Nicole Luce, established the discovery of the vehicle Russel Douglas was found in. Neither witnessed the crime, but both saw the yellow Geo Tracker sport utility vehicle owned by Douglas. He was found slumped over the steering wheel on a driveway off Wahl Road. Bailey testified she saw the car drive down Wahl Road, then come partially up her driveway, before it backed out and went west. Bailey also said she did not see who was driving or how many people were in the car.

“The windows were tinted, I couldn’t see anyone,” Bailey said.

Luce said she spotted the car pulled off a driveway of a neighbor’s property. She and her partner Janet Hall walked along the beach Dec. 27 and returned home by crossing a neighbor’s property. Parked off the driveway was a sport utility vehicle. Luce said in court she could not remember the color.

A handful of law enforcement officers and forensics experts testified Thursday during the trial’s second day in court. A few officers who had responded to the initial call that there was a dead man in a car off Wahl Road in Freeland described their arrival and process of evaluating the scene and evidence.

The trial is expected to extend into next week, possibly lasting as long as 10 or 12 days.

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