Whitesburg KY

Murder suspect was able to avoid previous charges

Grand jury to hear charges against two held in New Year’s Day stabbing

James R. Huffman IV, the 34-yearold Pike County man accused of wielding the knife used to stab Michael Shane Hogg to death early New Year’s Day, has a long history of violating the law and mostly getting away with it, court records say.

In addition to violating conditions imposed upon him after his release on bond from the Pike County Detention Center, where Huffman was taken after threatening Pike County sheriff ’s deputies with a hunting knife and sword during one-hour standoff on Dec. 4, Huff- man failed to appear for a scheduled jury trial in Pike District Court on Feb. 15, 2006 in connection with a fourth-degree assault charge filed against him.

Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II said there is an active bench warrant for Huff- man in connection with his failure to appear in the 2006 case, but the warrant was never served even though Huffman has been in trouble with the law several times since.

The 2006 trial on the misdemeanor charges wasn’t the only court appearance Huffman failed to make, Banks charges in a motion filed last week in Letcher District Court.

“In addition, … the defendant failed to appear in Pike District Court for yet another jury trial on Aug. 18, 2005 in three separate consolidated cases in which (Huffman) was to be tried for the offenses of criminal trespass in the third degree, harassing communications, and terroristic threatening in the third degree,” Banks wrote in a motion opposing bond for Huffman and Huffman’s co-defendant, 24-yearold Patrick Smith, also of Pike County.

The 2005 charges against Huff- man, wrote Banks, “were dismissed upon the motion of the Pike County Attorney’s Office and were so dismissed upon the most unusual condition that (Huffman) appear before Pike District Judge Kelsey Friend to be admonished within six months of the order of dismissal. The record is void of any notation that (Huffman) ever appeared for the admonishment by Judge Friend.”

The allegations by Banks were made in hopes of persuading Letcher District Judge Kevin R. Mullins to continue to hold Huff- man and Smith without bail in the Letcher County Jail in connection with the murder of Hogg and the assault of two other men, Christopher Puckett, 23, of Jenkins, and Stacy Phillips, 23, of Thornton. Both men were also allegedly stabbed by Huffman.

Huffman’s attorney, Robert Wright of Pikeville, had argued in a motion before Judge Mullins that Huffman deserved to have a bond set, arguing that Huffman “has no prior felony record and no history of failing to appear for any court appearances.” Wright also pointed out to Mullins that Huffman’s family has owned businesses in Pike County for the past 40 years.

In the end, Judge Mullins agreed with Banks and ordered Huffman and Smith to remain held in the county jail without bond. The ruling by Mullins came at the end of a preliminary hearing in which the judge also ruled there is enough evidence against Huff- man and Wright to send their case to the Letcher County Grand Jury for further action.

Banks also wrote in his motion that “the criminal history of (Huff- man) contains numerous assault, drug and alcohol offenses which were either dismissed upon the motion of the county attorney or which were filed with leave or diverted upon condition of good and lawful behavior and no further violations of law, just as (Huffman) was ordered to do when released on bond in Pike District Court following his arrest of Dec. 4” on charges of criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, menacing, and harassment.

Banks charges that in “one such dismissal” of charges against Huff- man, Pike County’s prosecuting attorney dismissed cases charging Huffman with driving under the influence (second offense), thirddegree possession of a controlled substance, first-degree possession of a controlled substance, and possession of marijuana under the condition that Huffman enroll in and successfully complete substance abuse treatment.

Huffman, charges Banks, “failed to complete the treatment program and was found in contempt by the Pike District Court a mere four days after such dismissal and was sentenced to 60 days. In turn, this 60-day sentence was probated upon condition that (Huffman) remain in the Pike County Detention Center until he was released to the custody of his parents to travel to the airport and board a plane to an undisclosed location for substance abuse treatment.”

According to the motion filed by Banks, Huffman was first arrested for driving under the influence in Pike County in 1996. In 2003, Huffman was charged with alcohol intoxication and carrying a concealed weapon in Floyd County. During the same year, Huffman was charged with driving on a suspended operator’s license in Madison County and with DUI, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia in Montgomery County. A fourthdegree assault charge filed against Huffman in Pike County in 2011 was diverted.

Last Thursday’s ruling by Judge Mullins to send the cases against Huffman and Smith to the grand jury came after testimony was heard from Kentucky State Police Detective Joel Abner, the officer who charged Huffman with murder and two counts of assault and Smith with complicity to murder, two counts of carrying a concealed deadly weapon, tampering with physical evidence and criminal mischief.

Under questioning from Banks, Abner said Hogg, an Eastern Kentucky University student home for winter break, suffered “wounds to the front of his torso and several wounds to his back” when Huff- man and Smith attacked Hogg, Puckett and Phillips during an altercation in downtown Whitesburg at about 2 a.m. January 1.

Abner testified that Huffman stabbed Hogg with a knife with a fixed bladed of about four to five inches in length. Abner referred to the knife as a “buck knife.”

Abner said three eyewitnesses, including surviving victims Puckett and Phillips, told police that Huffman and Smith were both on top of Hogg, a native of Kingscreek, at the time Hogg suffered the eight stab wounds. Abner said Puckett was stabbed one time in the mid-lower part of his back, while Phillips suffered a lacerated hand.

The third eyewitness, Abner said, is 23-year-old Samantha Mullins of Wise, Va., who attempted to drive Hogg, Puckett and Phillips to the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital for treatment after the altercation near a parking lot at the intersection of Hayes Street and Pine Street.

In a harrowing account, Abner said the witnesses told him that as the three injured men were getting into a Jeep in which Ms. Mullins was going to drive them to the hospital for help, Huffman and Smith beat on the vehicle and tried to get inside it before slashing its tires. Because of the flattened tires, Ms. Mullins was able to drive only as far as the Letcher County Recreation Center before she stopped the vehicle and dialed 9-1-1 at 2:13 a.m.

Asked by attorney Wright why Ms. Mullins didn’t call 9-1-1 sooner, Abner replied, “She was busy getting away from the two suspects.”

According to other evidence presented at the hearing, the dispute involving Huffman, Smith, Hogg, Puckett and Phillips began earlier in the night after the two suspects entered the Jeep — “somewhat uninvited,” testified Abner — while it was occupied by Ms. Mullins and another woman whom Abner didn’t identify while the vehicle was parked in a lot near the rear of the Letcher County Courthouse.

Under questioning by Wright, Abner said Huffman “became inappropriate” with one of the two women and “exited the vehicle” sometime soon after that.

Attorney Wright, whose questioning indicated that Huffman may claim he was acting in selfdefense when he committed the stabbings, asked Abner if the altercation began after Ms. Mullins told the three stabbing victims of the encounter with Huffman and Smith.

Wright also asked Abner if video surveillance showed the three victims leaving StreetSide Grill and Bar on Main Street, where they had been celebrating the new year, after Huffman walked out of the establishment.

In his motion seeking bond for Huffman, Wright wrote that Huffman “is presumed innocent and there appears at this point to be defenses which would indicate that (Huffman) was acting in selfdefense.”

Wright also asked Det. Abner if he noticed an injury to Huffman’s nose at the time Huffman was being interviewed shortly after his arrest.

The highly secured courtroom (at least 18 police officers stood guard) was filled to capacity with spectators, mostly with people showing their support for the Hogg family, including Michael Hogg’s parents, Don and Connie Hogg of Kingscreek.

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