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Retired Harford State’s Attorney Cassilly disbarred over handling of ‘Memorial Day Murders.’ His reaction: ‘Oh, whatever’

The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun
 2021-10-22
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Maryland’s highest court has disbarred retired Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly for withholding exculpatory evidence that surfaced in a 1981 double-murder case and lying about it over the years. Photo by Matt Button/The Aegis s

Maryland’s highest court has disbarred retired Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly for withholding exculpatory evidence that surfaced in a 1981 double-murder case and lying about it over the years.

Cassilly learned of the court’s decision Friday from a phone call by The Baltimore Sun.

“Oh, whatever. I’m retired anyway,” he said.

The Maryland Court of Appeals found the former prosecutor lied about documents that undermined the credibility of an FBI agent on the case. In an opinion Friday, the judges noted Cassilly, a Republican, served 36 years as Harford County’s top prosecutor and retired in 2019.

The judges wrote that disbarring him would prevent his possible return to the courtroom and send a message.

“Disbarment recognized the seriousness of Cassilly’s misconduct and serves the goal of protecting the public and ensuring the public’s confidence in the legal profession by deterring other attorneys from engaging in similar misconduct,” they wrote.

Cassilly maintains that he did nothing wrong, but rather “fell into the whole anti-criminal justice movement, where the cops are the bad guys and the prosecutors are the bad guys.”

“I’m disappointed, but the real answer is: Do I care? I don’t give a damn,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything to engage in the practice of law right now because it’s such a screwed-up obscenity.”

At issue is his handling of the so-called Memorial Day Murders, a gruesome double killing in Abingdon nearly 40 years ago.

Police found Diane Becker, 21, stabbed and beaten to death with a bottle in her camper home in an Abingdon RV park. They found her 4-year-old son in the camper traumatized but uninjured. Her boyfriend, Joseph Hudson, a popular disc jockey, was shot to death a few miles away on the path to a farm.

Prosecutors tried John Norman Huffington and Deno Kanaras separately for the murders, saying the two friends killed the couple over cocaine and cash. A jury convicted Kanaras of felony murder in Becker’s death. He was released from prison in 2008 after serving 27 years of a life sentence. Kanaras was a key witness in the prosecution of Huffington.

Cassilly prosecuted Huffington for the murders, but the courts twice reversed his convictions and granted new trials. Questions shadowed the prosecution after it was revealed FBI agent Michael P. Malone had a history of testifying falsely, conducting inaccurate analysis of hair samples and making statements that exceeded the limits of scientific testing. A 1997 Department of Justice investigation found fault with Malone and examiners at the FBI laboratory.

In November 2017, Cassilly and Huffington struck a deal. Huffington submitted an Alford plea to two counts of murder in exchange for time served. With an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his innocence but acknowledges there’s enough evidence to convict. He was released from prison after 32 years and two months.

Huffington has said he would have won his freedom years earlier had Cassilly disclosed the records.

“He doesn’t give an ‘F.’ Doesn’t care, never has,” Huffington said Friday. “That’s what we’ve been dealing with for 40 years. He doesn’t care what the judges say. He’s got it in his head that he is the arresting officer, the prosecuting attorney, the judge, the jury, and in my case, the executioner.”

Huffington thanked his attorneys, the bar counsel and the courts.

“This has been a 40-year journey. It started when I was 18; I’m 59 now,” he said. “I’ve waited for the truth and my truth to be told and be heard. Today, it was. I’m very grateful.”

In November 2018, Huffington filed a complaint against Cassilly with the Attorney Grievance Commission. The commission’s bar counsel, which investigates misconduct by attorneys, opened an investigation. The bar counsel and Cassilly argued the matter at trial last February.

Cassilly said he did not call Malone as a witness after questions surfaced about the agent’s credibility. The retired prosecutor said he therefore had no professional responsibility to disclose the reports.

Harford Circuit Court Judge Barbara Kerr Howe found Cassilly broke the rules for professional conduct and lied about documents. She recommended the state’s high court reprimand him.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, however, went further to disbar him.

“The trust placed in Cassilly as the elected State’s Attorney for Harford County, and the high standard to which prosecutors are held, renders Cassilly’s misconduct much more egregious than that of a lawyer in an official or government position who simply fails to follow proper procedures or rules,” the judges wrote.

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