HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A central Pennsylvania man who spent nearly 36 years in prison for the murder of his 16-year-old son has been released from prison.
James Hugney Sr., 72, walked out of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview on Friday 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.
His attorney had filed a motion to set aside the conviction and argued the evidence used to convict him relied on outdated science. ABC 27’s Kendra Nichols reported on the new investigation of Hugney’s case in May.
Hugney was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder and a consecutive term of 10 to 20 years for arson in 1979 after a jury in Dauphin County agreed with the prosecution’s theory that he was in a fit of anger when he poured a flammable liquid around his sleeping son and set the boy’s bedroom on fire.
His son, James Hugney Jr., suffered third-degree burns over 98 percent of his body and died five days after the fire that gutted the family’s home in the 1600 block of Bamberger Road in Susquehanna Township.
Justin McShane, a Harrisburg attorney who took up the investigation nearly four years ago, said the scientific evidence used to convict Hugney was based on popularly held beliefs that modern fire science has since refuted.
McShane said experts called by the prosecution at Hugney’s trial testified the fire was definitely arson, but three fire scientists retained by the law firm found no proof of arson and could not determine how or where the fire started using modern practices.