Attorney explains how science led to man’s release from prison

James Hugney, 72, was released from the State Correctional Institution at Rockville after nearly 36 years behind bars for a crime he says he did not commit. The next morning, at his attorney’s office in Harrisburg, he talked about his first night as a free man.

“I did not get much sleep,” Hugney said. “I did a whole lot of praying that I did not wake up and this was just a big dream.”

In 1979, Hugney was convicted of arson and second degree murder in the death of his 16-year-old son Jimmy and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors said Hugney poured gasoline around his son’s bed while he slept and lit it on fire. Jimmy died five days later.

Friday night, Hugney walked out of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview after he entered an Alford plea to third-degree murder and arson and was re-sentenced to time served.

An Alford plea is a guilty plea where a defendant proclaims innocence of a crime, but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to prove guilt.

“There is absolutely no proof of arson here whatsoever,” Hugley’s attorney Justin McShane said.

A picture of Hugney’s son’s room after the fire shows spots on the floor which appeared to be around the teen’s bed.

“Prosecutors in 1979 said Hugney, in a fit of rage, poured gasoline around his son’s bed. Those marks are, what they called at the time, characteristic pour pattern,” McShane said. “When in reality there was an open window that created a ventilation effect that was mistaken as a pour pattern. So it was a big mistake that now science knows is not true and is characteristic in accidental fires.”

Hugney said he is not bitter.

“God has helped me through this. If you love God and believe in God you do not carry on your bitterness you have forgiveness,” he said.

Hugney also said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and needs to find a job.

“The free world the world has changed so much. I do not know it,” he said. “The world is going to have to be introduced to me. I need a learning time. I need help.”

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