According to court documents John Huggins would carjack Carla Larson and force her to drive to a remote location where she was murdered
John Huggins would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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John Huggins Case
John Steven Huggins was convicted of first-degree murder, carjacking, kidnaping, and robbery. The victim, Carla Larson, worked in Orlando as an engineer for Centex Rooney. On June 10, 1997, Larson left work in her white Ford Explorer to buy refreshments at a nearby Publix and never returned. Her coworkers instituted a search and were told by eyewitnesses that on the afternoon of Larson’s disappearance, they observed a white Ford Explorer speeding dangerously on a dirt road near where the body was eventually found two days later. The driver was described as a white male with dark hair and a dark tan.
On the day of Larson’s disappearance, John Huggins and his wife, Angel, were visiting Orlando with their children. Angel testified that although she and Huggins drove to Orlando together, she left Orlando without him. Later that same day, John Huggins arrived at Angel’s mother’s house in Melbourne driving a white truck that matched the general description of the victim’s. Neighbors corroborated the fact that a white sports utility vehicle was seen at Angel’s mother’s residence. Although John Huggins and Angel were in the process of a divorce, Angel stayed with Huggins in various hotels in and around Melbourne until Angel’s sister, Tammy, arrived in Melbourne to visit. During Tammy’s stay, Huggins and Tammy began a relationship.
Kevin Smith, a friend of John Huggins, testified that during this time he agreed to let Huggins park a white sports utility vehicle at his house for a few days. Kevin noticed the truck had a radar detector hard wired in it, but after the truck was picked up, he discovered the radar detector hidden in a box near his hot water heater. On the evening of June 26, 1997, the police received a call that a truck was burning on a vacant lot near Kevin’s house. When they arrived at the scene, the truck was engulfed in flames. An investigation revealed that the burned-out truck was the victim’s Ford Explorer and the fire had been intentionally set.
Tammy returned home to Maryland on June 27, 1997, with John Huggins accompanying her. Shortly after Huggins and Tammy left Florida together, Angel saw a television program, America’s Most Wanted, which featured Carla Larson’s murder. Angel called and reported that she suspected her husband of the murder. As a result of Angel’s call, police conducted two extensive searches of Angel’s mother’s house and a shed on the property, but were unable to find incriminating evidence. Angel and her mother, Fay, also searched the home on their own. While retrieving bug spray from her shed, Fay noticed a screwdriver on top of a box. On a whim, she unscrewed the lid from an electrical box in the shed and found the victim’s jewelry secreted inside the box. No fingerprints were recovered from the jewelry, the electrical box, or its cover.
Police also questioned Kevin, who eventually admitted that he had found the radar detector, wiped any fingerprints off, and threw it in some bushes near his house. Police found the detector and discovered that it had belonged to the victim.
John Huggins was arrested in Maryland for the crime. After he was indicted by a grand jury in Orange County, Huggins moved for a change in venue. The trial court granted this request and transferred venue to Duval County. On February 3, 1999, John Huggins was convicted of first-degree murder, carjacking, robbery, and kidnaping. The jury recommended the death sentence by a vote of eight to four. After considering the proven aggravators and mitigators, the trial court sentenced Huggins to death.
Within weeks after the case was concluded, Preston Ausley, an engineer who worked at the Orange County Courthouse, contacted defense counsel and informed them of information which the State knew but never disclosed. On March 25, 1999, before this Court reviewed the merits of the direct appeal, defense counsel filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial court, alleging that the State withheld favorable information in violation of Brady. In light of the pending petition, this Court relinquished jurisdiction of the direct appeal so that the trial court could conduct an evidentiary hearing on the habeas corpus petition.1 After the evidentiary hearing was concluded, the trial court entered a written order finding as follows:
On June 16, 1997, an individual named Preston Ausley spoke with Detective Daniel Nazarchuk of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Ausley had contacted the Sheriff’s office with information regarding the Carla Larson case. Mr. Ausley told Detective Nazarchuk that a white Explorer cut him off in traffic [in Orlando] and that he had written down the tag number. Mr. Ausley told Detective Nazarchuk that he had verified within one digit that the license plate number he had recorded was the same as that of Carla Larson’s Explorer. As a result of this conversation, lead sheet 302 was created from Detective Nazarchuk’s notes. The lead sheet was provided to the defense during discovery.
At the evidentiary hearing, Mr. Ausley claimed that he told Detective Nazarchuk that the individual he saw driving the vehicle was a white female in her late twenties to early thirties with blonde hair just below the shoulder. However, Detective Nazarchuk’s notes indicate that Mr. Ausley said he saw a white male of the same description driving the vehicle. Detective Nazarchuk recorded the date of the sighting as June 12, 1997. However, Mr. Ausley believes it was June 11, 1997. At the hearing, Mr. Ausley explained that he is very bad with dates and came to the conclusion that he encountered Ms. Larson’s truck on June 11, 1997, by verifying the date through other sources.
Thereafter, on February 1, 1999, the day after seeing Angel Huggins on television during coverage of Defendant’s trial, Preston Ausley went to the Office of the State Attorney to speak with the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Lawson Lamar. Mr. Lamar was unavailable. Mr. Ausley was directed to Assistant State Attorney Dorothy Sedgwick who spoke with him briefly. Ms. Sedgwick asked Pat Guice, an Investigator with the State Attorney’s office, to speak with Mr. Ausley and take a tape recorded statement.
In the recorded statement provided to Mr. Guice, Mr. Ausley stated that when he saw Angel Huggins on television it struck him that she resembled the white female with blonde hair he had seen driving the white truck with a license plate that matched Carla Larson’s within one digit on the morning of June 11, 1997, on International Drive. After he had given his statement, Mr. Guice requested that Mr. Ausley return the next day so that the attorneys, who were at that very time prosecuting Defendant’s case in Jacksonville, could speak with him.
The next morning, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who was then prosecuting Defendant’s case in Jacksonville, spoke with Mr. Ausley via telephone. After his conversation with Mr. Ausley, Mr. Ashton determined that Mr. Ausley’s name had been given to Defendant in lead sheet 302, Mr. Ausley’s statement did not support what he believed the defense’s theory of the case would be, and Mr. Ausley’s statement was of little value. Mr. Ashton decided not to disclose the tape recorded statement or the information contained therein to Defendant. Mr. Ashton attended trial that day and did not disclose the fact that he had been contacted by Mr. Ausley to the Court or to the defense counsel. The trial concluded that same week.
At some point after John Huggins’s trial and sentencing, Mr. Ausley contacted Tyrone King, co-counsel for Defendant. Mr. Ausley advised Mr. King of his meeting with the members of the State Attorney’s Office and the substance of his February 1, 1999, tape recorded statement.