By SAM ADAMS
A Letcher Circuit jury has recommended that James R. Huffman IV be sentenced to life in prison plus 45 years in the January 1, 2014 stabbing death of Michael Hogg of Kingscreek, the attempted murder of three others, and the slashing of all four of their vehicle’s tires to prevent their escape.
The jury handed the recommendation up to Special Letcher Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson at 7:15 p.m. Friday after hearing testimony for about two hours during the “sentencing phase” of the trial, which began with jury selection on December 4. Earlier Friday, the same jurors found Huffman guilty of all five of the felony counts he was charged with.
The jury sentenced Huffman to life in prison for criminal complicity to commit murder, 20 years for complicity to the attempted murder of Christopher Puckett, 10 years each for complicity to the attempted murders of Stacy Phillips and Samantha Mullins, and five years for complicity to first-degree criminal mischief. The last charge was filed because Huffman had slashed the tires on Hogg’s Jeep Grand Cherokee before trying to break into the vehicle.
A life sentence in Kentucky is no less than 20 years. The attempted murder charges fall under guidelines that would allow application for parole after 85 percent of the sentence is served, and criminal mischief falls under guidelines that would allow parole after 15 percent of a sentence is served.
Judge Hendrickson set formal sentencing for January 18. If Hendrickson, of Harlan, follows the jury’s recommendation, the sentences will run consecutively, meaning Huffman will be 89 years old by the time he is eligible for parole after receiving credit for the four years he has spent in jail here and in Pike County since committing the murder.
The jury found Huffman guilty on all counts in the original indictment.
Still scheduled to stand trial in connection with the murder and attempted murders is Patrick Smith who, like Huffman, is from Pike County. Smith is also charged with complicity in the five crimes.
The jury returned its guilty verdict after deliberating evidence it heard during 15 days of testimony for a little less than four hours on Friday morning.
Many family members and friends of Hogg and his family broke into tears both after the guilty verdict was returned and also during the emotional testimony delivered by Don Hogg, the victim’s father, and surviving victims Christopher Puckett of Jenkins and Stacy Phillips of Thornton.
Huffman’s younger brother, Joshua, a former drug addict who is now a successful minister and business owner, testified on his behalf, telling jurors that he believes his James Huffman IV could find redemption if the jury recommended a lighter prison term. Joshua Huffman told the jury he found redemption after being sentenced to a one-year term in federal prison when he was 19.
Huffman’s father reacted to the guilty verdict by telling a sheriff’s deputy, “That’s what the appeals courts are for.”
Full coverage of the guilty verdict and the sentencing will appear in the December 27 edition of The Mountain Eagle.