Justices uphold life term in attack

— A man with a history of making up stories to get inside the homes of his female neighbors in midtown Little Rock saw his life sentence upheld Thursday by the state Supreme Court for a 2010 attack on a woman he had bound and gagged, and was dragging from her house, when an alert neighbor intervened.


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Haleigh Millwee, then 25, testified at James Huff’s April 2011 jury trial that he had forced his way into her home at 412 Shamrock Drive on a Sunday evening a year earlier, under the guise of asking her to help him read a scratched-up name tag on a miniature poodle he carried that he claimed was lost.

Millwee told a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury that as soon as she opened her glass storm door to look closely at the tag, the unknown man dropped the dog, punched her in the stomach and pinned her facedown on the floor. She said he then began unpacking items from a bag he carried that he sat down in front of her.

The items included a bandanna that he soon used to blindfold her, a light-bulb-shaped squishy “stress ball” that he used to gag her, zip ties he used to bind her wrists to her ankles, and a box cutter with which he threatened to cut her eyes out.

She testified that the intruder knocked her unconscious more than once, and choked her into unconsciousness, after catching her trying to hop away as he rummaged through her home, gathering her lingerie and some high heels into a canvas bag of hers that he sat by the door.

As he dragged her outside toward his green Ford Explorer, which was parked in her driveway, she spit out the gag and called out for help, while trying to hold onto bushes and her car tire, she testified. Then, as the assailant kicked her, she heard the voice of a neighbor, Greg Alagood, yelling at the man.

Although her assailant, later identified as Huff, tried to shoo Alagood away by claiming he was taking Millwee “to rehab,” Alagood ran into Millwee’s yard while calling to his wife to call 911. Huff panicked, jumped into the Explorer and drove away.

Alagood and his wife took Millwee into their home until police arrived. Millwee was then taken to a hospital, where a nurse collected DNA samples traceable to Huff from the tissue under Millwee’s fingernails. A search of Huff’s house, where he lived with his wife, also turned up latex gloves, zip ties, a red bandanna, a gag, a box cutter, and shoes with Millwee’s blood on them.

After the jury convicted Huff, a grocery store produce manager, of aggravated residential burglary, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, first-degree terroristic threatening and second-degree battery, jurors heard from four more women who lived in or near the Leawood area, where Huff also lived, and who testified about scary encounters they’d had with him in 2009, 2006 and 2002.

In the 2009 incidents, one woman testified that she saw a man acting suspiciously outside her house one night, while wearing a latex glove on one hand, as Huff did during Millwee’s attack. Another testified that Huff, whom she knew, showed up at her house late one night wearing latex gloves and carrying a BB gun, claiming that something down the hill was on fire. As her husband dressed to go investigate, she tried to block Huff from entering the house and wrestled the gun from him.

Another woman testified that in 2006, Huff appeared at her door saying he had a work order to repair her telephone, then followed her inside but left after seeing her daughter and granddaughter there.

In the 2002 incident, another woman told jurors she pulled into her garage late one night with her fiance, a Little Rock police officer, in her passenger seat. She said an unknown man was in the garage, and upon seeing her passenger, ran into the house and then out a rear door. She later found several undergarments missing.

At the jury’s recommendation, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright Jr. sentenced Huff to life without parole for kidnapping, 40 years each for the burglary and robbery charges, and six years each for the threatening and battery charges, for a total of life without parole plus 92 years.

On appeal, Huff complained that Wright should have reduced the kidnapping charge to a Class B felony, instead of the more serious Class Y felony, because he “voluntarily” released Millwee alive and in a safe place, her yard, before he drove away.

In Thursday’s opinion, Justice Karen Baker cited previous cases, noting, “A kidnapping victim has not been voluntarily released when the victim escapes through her own resistance” or “if the release was caused by the defendant’s attempt to escape apprehension.”

Baker also noted that Millwee testified that she had to roll away from the vehicle to avoid being run over as Huff drove off.

Huff also complained that in the sentencing phase, Wright shouldn’t have allowed the testimony of the other women to demonstrate “similar conduct.”

Baker responded by saying that each incident occurred in “close proximity” to Millwee’s home, that the trial court has “wide discretion” in admitting evidence, and that “each incident shares at least one common element with the attack on Millwee, thus demonstrating that Huff’s attack on Millwee was not an isolated incident.”

The justices noted that, given the similarities between the events, they cannot find that Wright abused his discretion.

The case is James T. Huff v. State, No. CR11-1071.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 10/12/2012

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