The McShane Firm

PRESS RELEASE

Press Conference on Saturday January 24, 2015 at 1pm at The McShane Firm, LLC 3601 Vartan Way, 1st Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17110 all are welcome.

Man Freed After Serving 35 years 11 months and 8 days in Prison for An Arson-Murder that Wasn’t

(Harrisburg, PA and Bellefonte, PA)– In July 1979, James Hugney Sr. was convicted after a jury trial in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County of a notorious arson-murder then called by the media “the Burning Bed Case.” The case was called the “Burning Bed” because the prosecution’s theory of the case was that Hugney in a fit of anger set his house on fire by pouring flammable liquid around the bed of his then 16-year old son: his namesake James Hugney, Jr while his son slept in the bed. His house was gutted by the fire. Five days after the fire, his son died as a complication of his burns where he had 3rd degree burns over 98% of his body.

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Picture 1: The 1625 Bamberger Road house in Harrisburg, PA after the fire fully consumed the house

At the time of the trial, three different experts were called by the government to testify that this was definitely an arson based upon “characteristic pour patterns around the bed of young Hugney” and also based upon chemical analysis that stated that charred parts of the bedroom “were characteristic of hydrocarbons.” However, the investigators could not establish a definitive cause, origin or first fuel for the fire. This method is called the Negative Corpus method of fire investigation and was the lynchpin of the prosecution’s case.

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Picture 2: The bedroom where James Hugney, Jr. was sleeping and what fire investigators at the time believed were “characteristic pour patterns” that proved that there was an arson

After his trial attorneys in 1979 did not challenge the opinions of the fire experts that it was an arson, James Hugney was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Life in prison in Pennsylvania means that there is no possibility of parole. Life means life.

Beyond that, the trial court wrote at the time of his appeal: “We feel compelled to repeat the feelings we expressed in our opinion on Hugney Sr. ‘s post-trial motions that it is unfortunate that petitioner’s life, as well as his appeal, cannot be doused.”

Every day for 36 years, Hugney has maintained his innocence. But for the fact that capital punishment (the death penalty) was suspended in the United States from 1972 through 1976 primarily as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), he may very well have been executed by this time.

Nearly four years ago, Attorney Justin J. McShane and the attorneys at The McShane Firm, LLC took up the investigation of Mr. Hugney’s conviction. Upon his initial review of the case, Attorney Justin J. McShane who is a well-known lawyer-scientist who focuses on forensic science related cases knew that “the science was wrong” in this case. “The pivotal scientific evidence of negative corpus had been debunked,” said McShane, “and all of the scientific evidence used in the case was based on popularly held beliefs and myths of the time that modern science has totally refuted.” McShane retained 3 international fire scientists: Dennis Smith of Premier Fire Consulting Services, LLC; John Lentini of Science Fire Analysis, LLC; and chemist and fire investigator Samuel Blittman. All three of them independently and categorically stated that the scientific methods used to condemn Hugney to life in prison are not supported by modern science. They stated in the reports, which were filed with the court, that they could not conclude that this was an arson using modern best practices of fire science. The lynchpin to the conviction had been pulled. With that, McShane filed a motion to set aside the near 36 year conviction.

Today, after 35 years 11 months and 8 days of imprisonment, he is a free man.

His PCRA was granted. The verdicts were set aside. He was awarded a new trial. He entered an Alford plea to proclaim his innocence. He was granted immediate release with credit for time served.

He went home with his family.

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“This is a great day for James Hugney, a great day for justice, and a great day for science,” said Hugney’s attorney, Justin McShane of The McShane Firm. “We give thanks to District Attorney Ed Marsico and First Assistant District Attorney Francis T. Chardo III who as honorable and noble shepherds of justice in Dauphin County did the right thing. Without them, justice would not have been served in this case. It shows a remarkable sense of ethics and morality that these two are already well known for. While no one can give him back the nearly 36 years of his life that he lost, at least Mr. Hugney has his freedom now,” said McShane.

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Justin J. McShane is a double board certified trial attorney. He is a Fellow with the American Institute of Chemists and has earned the American Chemical Society-Chemistry and the Law Division Lawyer-Scientist designation. He is the Chairman/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC located in Harrisburg, PA. The McShane Firm is an 8-attorney law firm that focuses on criminal defense and forensic science related cases. He was aided in this case by Attorneys Theodore Tanski, Richard Roberts, Katherine Kennedy, all of The McShane Firm.

James Hugney, Sr. is nicknamed “Huggy” by family and friends. He is 72 years old. Before his conviction, he was a local businessman in Dauphin County, a taxpaying citizen, and a father of two boys. He even served on jury duty in Dauphin County in 1977. He received a commendation from then Chief of the Harrisburg Bureau of Police, Paul D. King, for his help in catching a purse snatcher. While incarcerated for nearly 36 years, he dedicated all of his time towards fundraising for Big Brother and Big Sisters raising tens of thousands of dollars. He became very actively involved in the Roman Catholic Church while in prison, and counseled many prisoners to find peace and religion while in jail.

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Picture 3: James Hugney, Sr.

More about The McShane Firm: http://www.TheMcshaneFirm.com/

James Hugney Sr.’s case was covered in detail in a two-part series by ABC27 which can be seen at:http://freehugney.com/in-the-modern-news/

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Media Contact:

Justin J. McShane, JD, F-AIC
The McShane Firm, LLC-The Science Attorneys

3601 Vartan Way
2nd Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17110
t: 7176573900
f: 7176572060
w: http://www.TheMcShaneFirm.com/
e: justin@TheMcShaneFirm.com

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2014-10-17 FALP XII(1)

Congratulations to the graduates of the 12th class of the American Chemical Society Hands-on Gas Chromatography class. This makes for 210 graduates in 40 states.

 

Today’s graduates include:

First name Last Name State
Tim Bussey CO
Gregory Willis GA
Thomas Addair KS
John Thurston KS
Barton Morris MI
Neil Rockind MI
Steven Hernandez NJ
Jeff Meadows OH
Alan Woodland OK
John Arose PA
Rich Roberts PA
TC Tanski PA
Leslie Johnson TX
Mark Kelley TX
Jessica Phipps TX
Courtney Stamper TX
Michael Cohen WI
Nathan Dineen WI
Sarah Schmeiser WI
 

NIST names OSAC Resource Committees

As many regular readers will recall, NIST is trying to end the Wild Wild West that is the modern practice of Forensic Science. Just moments ago, they released their latest appointees:

An initiative to strengthen and bring uniformity to forensic science standards took another step forward today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology appointed 35 new members to the Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC).

The new members, selected for their expertise in law, psychology and quality assurance, will serve on three advisory committees. These OSAC Resource Committees will play a critical support role by advising the Forensic Science Standards Board, the scientific area committees and subcommittees focused on specific forensic science disciplines within OSAC as they adopt, develop and review standards.

“As our science-focused committees and subcommittees work to support the development of forensic science standards and guidelines, we expect that there will be many questions related to law, work flow processes and quality control. These resource committees will help address those,” said John Paul Jones II, associate director for OSAC affairs.

The Human Factors Committee will provide guidance on how systems design influences human performance, on how to minimize cognitive and confirmation bias, and on how to mitigate errors in complex tasks.

The Legal Resource Committee will review and provide a legal perspective on proposed standards.

The Quality Infrastructure Committee will assemble and update a Forensic Science Code of Practice, provide guidance on quality issues, and provide impact statements that inform agency management about how specific standards may affect laboratory operations. It will also work with outside standards development organizations and accrediting bodies as needed.

The resource committee members were chosen from among 1,300 OSAC applicants. They include public defenders, law school professors, prosecutors, judges, standards development experts, laboratory managers and human factors experts.

A NIST-DOJ membership selection team is reviewing applications for the remaining OSAC positions and will announce the appointments as they are completed.

To see the membership of each resource committee, please go to www.nist.gov/forensics/osac/resource-coms.cfm.

 

Human Factors Committee Members

  • Deborah A. Boehm-Davis, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, George Mason University
  • Itiel Dror, Ph.D., Principal Researcher, Cognitive Consultants International
  • Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor of Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Christian A. Meissner, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University
  • Erin Morris, Ph.D., Behavioral Sciences Research Analyst, Los Angeles County Public Defender
  • Sunita Sah, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Public Policy at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
  • Scott Shappell, Ph.D., Human Factors and Systems Department Chair, Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Dan Simon, Professor of Law and Psychology, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law, and Department of Psychology
  • Brian C. Stanton, cognitive scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • William C. Thompson, Ph.D., Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society and Psychology and Social Behavior and Law, University of California Irvine

Legal Resource Committee Members

  • Jennifer Friedman, Deputy Public Defender, Los Angeles County
  • Christine Funk, General Counsel, Department of Forensic Sciences, Washington, D.C. (local government)
  • Lynn Robitaille Garcia, General Counsel, Texas Forensic Science Commission (state government)
  • Ted R. Hunt, Chief Trial Attorney and DNA Cold Case Project Director, Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Kansas City, MO
  • John Kacavas, United States Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice
  • David H. Kaye, Professor, Graduate Faculty, Forensic Science Program, Pennsylvania State University
  • David A. Moran, Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
  • Christopher J. Plourd, Superior Court Judge, State of California
  • Ronald S. Reinstein, Judge and Judicial Consultant, Arizona Supreme Court
  • Barry Scheck, Professor, Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University; Co-Director, Innocence Project; Commissioner, NY Commission on Forensic Science; Neufeld, Scheck, & Brustin, LLC

Quality Infrastructure Committee Members

  • Karin Athanas, Program Manager, American Association For Laboratory Accreditation
  • Sally S. Aiken, Medical Examiner, Spokane County, Washington
  • Barbara E. Andree, Forensic Chemist, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Jason Bond, Quality Assurance Coordinator, Indiana State Police Laboratory Division
  • Pamela L. Bordner, Sr. Accreditation Program Manager, ASCLD/LAB
  • Kris Cano, Forensic Laboratory Manager, Scottsdale Police Department Crime Laboratory
  • Deborah Friedman, Criminalist III, Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory
  • Matthew Gamette, Laboratory Improvement and Quality Manager, Idaho State Police Forensic Services
  • Keith Greenaway, Vice President, ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board
  • Arlene Hall, Commander, Illinois State Police, Division of Forensic Services
  • Bruce Houlihan, Director, Orange County Crime Laboratory/Orange County Sheriff-Coroner
  • Alice R. Isenberg, Ph.D., Section Chief, FBI Laboratory
  • Timothy Kupferschmid, Laboratory Director, New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner
  • Karen Reczek, Senior Standards Information Specialist, NIST Standards Coordination Office
  • Frances E. Schrotter, Sr. Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, American National Standards Institute
 

Delaware State Police (“DSP”) and the Delaware Department of Justice (“DDOJ”) initiated an investigation of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”) Controlled Substances Unit (“OCME-CSU” or “CSU”).

According to this news story, there were lots of problems found.

New details have emerged in an evidence scandal that occurred within in the Delaware Medical Examiner’s office.

A new report from Attorney General Beau Biden’s office revealed numerous “systemic operational failings” within the Chief Medical Examiner’s Controlled Substance Unit. These failings allegedly led to missing or altered drug evidence in 46 cases.

An audit discovered at least 51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence. The missing evidence includes marijuana, Oxycontin, heroin and cocaine.

The preliminary investigation, conducted by the Department of Justice and Delaware State Police, demonstrated the absence of management, oversight and security within the lab. Detailing lax security procedures, employees were described in the report as propping the drug vault door open and turning off the security alarm system.

“Employees recall having observed the door to the drug vault propped open numerous times over the years,” stated the report. “When the DSP secured the drug vault on February 20, 2014, a well-worn, wooden chock was observed in the area adjacent to the door. Based on witness interviews, investigators believe this was used to hold the door open.”

At times, drug evidence was not handled, stored or tested according to protocol, according to the investigation. Records were mismanaged and evidence was removed without being properly logged out. Additionally, the report stated that some employees lacked the training or experience needed to perform some of the tasks to which they were assigned.

The investigation has lead to the arrest of two lab employees, Forensic Investigator James Woodson and Laboratory Manager Farnam Daneshgar, along with the suspension of Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Callery.

Woodson was indicted on one count each of trafficking cocaine, theft of a controlled substance, official misconduct, and tampering with evidence.

Daneshgar was indicted on two counts of falsifying business records. According to the report, witnesses accused Daneshgar of “dry labbing,” which is the “practice of declaring a result without performing the analytical testing to produce the result.”

Overhaul Planned

The report was released as Delaware lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill that would abolish the chief medical examiner’s office and create the Division of Forensic Science. A director would oversee the division, which would be housed under the Department of Safety and Homeland Security rather than the Department of Health and Social Services.

The division would be responsible for overseeing the chief medical examiner’s office and would be responsible for working with the courts and law enforcement, investigating deaths, participating on the Criminal Justice Council and providing fatal incident reviews to the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.

“Delaware must have its own independent, state-of-the-art crime laboratory,” said Biden in a statement. “A new crime lab is the right thing for Delaware’s criminal justice system and the right thing for taxpayers.”

The legislation is being considered in the state Senate.