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Father seeks new trial in son's 1978 fire death - abc27 WHTM

Father seeks new trial in son's 1978 fire death

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  • Attorney: New evidence proves man didn't kill son

    Attorney: New evidence proves man didn't kill son

    Thursday, May 22 2014 6:53 PM EDT2014-05-22 22:53:23 GMT
    Thirty-five years ago, James Hugney of Susquehanna Township was convicted of arson and second-degree murder. A jury believed he poured gasoline around his 16-year-old son's bed and set the house on fire.More >>
    Thirty-five years ago, James Hugney of Susquehanna Township was convicted of arson and second-degree murder. A jury believed he poured gasoline around his 16-year-old son's bed and set the house on fire.
    More >>
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

August, 20 1978, a fire ripped through a small house on Bamberger Road in Susquehanna Township. Inside, 16-year-old Jimmy Hugney was home alone and asleep. He ran out of the burning house and was found by a neighbor lying in a field; naked and with burns over 90 percent of his body. He died five days later.

Two weeks later, Jimmy's dad, James Hugney, was arrested and charged with 2nd-degree murder and arson. Police said Hugney poured gasoline around his son's bed and started the fire. Prosecutors said the motive was marital and financial problems. A jury convicted Hugney in February 16, 1979 and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Hugney has been behind bars for 35 years. He has always maintained his innocence.

He spoke with abc27 News by phone from the Rockview state prison in Bellefonte.

"I think of my son quite often," he said. "It is hard to talk about him because I am here with a bunch of tough guys and it is hard to hold the tears back. It truly hurts, you know.

"I did not do it. There may have been faulty wiring and things," he said. "There was no way I thought an innocent man could be convicted of something that he did not do."

Hugney's family has stood by him the past 35 years. His sister, Linda Bell, visits her brother in prison and talks to him on the phone. She says her brother's conviction shattered the family.

"It hurt everybody so badly. My mother and dad, the one thing I regret is that they went to their grave knowing he never received a fair trial," Bell said.

The defense claimed Jimmy started the fire. Just a month earlier, he had blown off his own hand with a homemade pipe bomb. He came home from the hospital 10 days before the fire.

"First thought that came to my mind was, 'I wonder what Jimmy was up to,' and I felt that way all along," said Tom Bell, Hugney's brother-in law.

"Jimmy was always into something. He was very mischievous, loved to see things explode and then he would laugh about it," Linda Bell said. "In my heart, I think Jimmy did something. I really do."

Although a jury found Hugney guilty, his family says the man they know was not capable of killing his own son.

" I can't imagine my uncle doing anything like that to hurt anybody," said Pam Romero, Hugney's niece.

"I am surprised that they even accused him of it, let alone convicted him of it," Tom Bell said.

"I know him. He did not do this and they just never gave him the chance to have a fair trial," said Linda Bell.

Hugney has filed a petition in Dauphin County court for a new trial. This will be his second attempt. Hugney says new scientific evidence will prove his innocence.

"I have hope now," he said. "Before, there was no hope, no light whatsoever."

Harrisburg attorney Justin McShane is handling the case.

"We still have enough time to right this wrong. We have enough time to do the right thing," McShane said. "This guy is factually innocent."

So what is the new evidence that could possibly clear Hugney's name? Part Two of "The Burning Bed" airs tomorrow on Live at 5.


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