A dramatic scene unfolded inside Island County Superior Court Monday morning at the sentencing hearing of a former beauty queen who became a celebrity after being suspected of murder.
A line of TV cameras pursued 47-year-old Peggy Sue Thomas as she entered court. A crew from NBC’s Dateline filmed her every move inside the court as famous crime writer Ann Rule watched from the audience.
Judge Alan Hancock sentenced Peggy Sue Thomas to four years in prison, which was the recommended sentence and the maximum he could impose. Thomas pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance in the first degree as part of a plea bargain last month, just days before she was set to go to trial for the murder of 32-year-old Russel Douglas.
Thomas’ former boyfriend, James Huden, was sentenced last year to 80 years in prison for shooting Douglas in the head on remote Wahl Road near Freeland two days after Christmas of 2003.
Thomas remained silent in court, but became emotional at the start of the hearing as she spoke with her two daughters. In the end, a corrections deputy searched her in court and took her away to jail.
Under her plea, Thomas admitted to helping Huden after the murder was committed, yet the judge made it clear that he felt Thomas was involved in the murder. He emphasized that Thomas was the only connection between Douglas and James Huden. Thomas worked as a hairdresser with Douglas’ estranged wife, Brenna, in Langley.
The judge urged that Thomas come forward with the truth about how and why Douglas was killed.
“Peggy Thomas has it within her power to alleviate the suffering of the family and friends of Russel Douglas, at least to some extent, by telling everything she knows about this terrible crime and what led up to it,” he said. “… I call on her to give a full account of what she knows.”
Jim Douglas, the victim’s father, appeared via Skype. He read a statement from his son, Matthew, who described Thomas as the one who set the murder in motion.
“The irony here is that Jim Huden is her greatest still-living victim as he bears the fullest measure of her calculated deed,” he said.
Jim Douglas said the four-year sentence wasn’t enough, but the family understood the risks of going to trial. He also urged Thomas to explain what she knows. He said the case was “a story so bizarre the truth has been muddled if not lost.”
He poked at the former Ms. Washington for “all that fine plastic surgery” and conjecture that she won’t have a fun time in prison.
Douglas’ mother and stepfather, Gail and Bob O’Neil, also spoke in court. They both described Douglas as a good man. Gail said Thomas was manipulated into thinking Douglas was a bad man by Brenna; she said they had “a tragic mess of a marriage.” She also implored Thomas to confess everything she knows about the crime.
In what Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks characterized as a “somewhat odd” move, defense attorney Craig Platt gave a lengthy PowerPoint presentation aimed at showing that Thomas was innocent of any involvement in the killing. He went through inconsistencies in the evidence against his client and criticized the investigation.
Platt said his head would explode if he ever again hears the story of how Thomas lured Douglas to his death with the promise of a gift for his wife. He presented evidence that he argued showed Thomas gave her the gift before Christmas.
For the first time, Platt pointed a finger at Brenna Douglas and questioned why she wasn’t on trial.
He described her as a disgruntled and estranged wife who hated her husband, saying that was a motive for murder. He said Huden told a friend he wanted to kill someone just to see what it felt like.
“Isn’t it possible that the nut job Jim Huden and the disgruntled wife Brenna somehow in this day in age find a way to communicate without using smoke signals through Peggy?” he said.
“Who’s to say it wasn’t just those two?” he added. “Where’s Brenna? She’s not here.”
Platt described Thomas as an upstanding citizen. He said she was a jet mechanic in the Navy, a hairdresser a limo driver and also a great mother.
“She’s not this headline-grabbing siren, this Lorelei who lures men to their death,” he said.