The National Registry of Exonerations recently profiled the exoneration of Larry Lane Hugee, a Maryland man who spent nearly ten years in prison for the 2003 robbery of a Dollar Tree Store in Fruitland, MD.
On May 16, 2013 the case against Hugee was dismissed after a circuit court judge found that he had been wrongfully convicted on the basis of a key witness’s testimony, whose credibility was thrown into doubt by undisclosed records.
Sandra Tingle testified for the state at Hugee’s trial that she had been with him at his house on the day of the robbery. She said he left the house for a while during the day, and returned wearing different clothing. She testified that the clothing Hugee was wearing before he left the house matched clothing that the police found behind the Dollar Tree.
From the National Registry of Exoneration’s profile:
They discovered that the prosecution had reports on Tingle that revealed a history of drug addiction and serious mental health problems. Prior to the robbery, Tingle had pleaded guilty to a drug charge and received a sentence of home confinement. Because Hugee knew her and because she was homeless, Hugee offered to allow her to live with him. However, when a probation officer called the home to check on Tingle, she was not there, which Hugee reported. As a result, Tingle had been arrested and was in the detention center on the day of the robbery.
In March 2012, Judge Leah Seaton vacated Hugee’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge ruled that the prosecution, apparently inadvertently, had failed to disclose the records of Tingle’s drug and mental health problems. The judge ruled that the records would have cast serious doubt on her testimony—particularly since jail records showed she was incarcerated on the day she said she was with Hugee.
Had the records been turned over to the defense, the judge ruled that “the inherent unreliability of her testimony would have been presented” to the jury.
There were other problems with the case too, including that DNA testing was never done and an eyewitness to the robbery who was unable to identify Hugee after the crime later identified on the stand at trial.