James Huden, Boyfriend of Ex-Ms. Washington, Found Guilty in 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' Murder

Ms. Washington 2000
Nine years after he killed a man at the alleged request of his beauty queen girlfriend, James Huden was convicted of first degree murder yesterday on Whidbey Island. Now the former girlfriend, Peggy Sue Thomas - the ex-wife of a Kentucky Derby-winning horseman and a former Ms. Washington who was profiled in a 2011 Seattle Weekly cover story ("Drop Dead Gorgeous") - will go on trial as his accomplice in November.

Observers are already wondering how the verdict might affect the case against Thomas, 47, a Whidbey native and the leggy, red-headed winner of the evening gown competition at the 2000 Ms. U.S. Continental Pageant in Las Vegas.

Facing life in prison, might Huden, 55, decide to implicate his former mistress to lessen his sentence, forcing a plea deal by Thomas? She has pleaded not guilty and claimed Huden murdered Russell Douglas just after Christmas, 2003 without her knowledge.

Investigators had said Douglas, the estranged husband of a friend of Thomas's, was slain in a contract kill to collect on the 32-year-old's $500,000 insurance money. Prosecutors implicated - but never charged - Douglas' widow as a shadowy third figure behind the shooting on a remote island road. However, the widow, Brenna Douglas, ended up testifying for the prosecution during Huden's eight-day trial.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks steered clear of Thomas' alleged role during Huden's trial. Banks asserted that the killer's motive for shooting Douglas was revenge of sorts, to "satisfy his own troubled past, one with an abusive stepfather," according to the South Whidbey Record.

The prosecutor laid out an international trail of evidence and presented a far-flung array of witnesses in a case that extended from Whidbey to Mexico, where Huden, a music teacher and guitarist with a band called Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists, hid out under the name Maestro Jim for six years before his arrest last summer.

Persuasive testimony was given by a witness from New Mexico who supplied the murder weapon to authorities, and an East Coast man who said Huden confessed to him, the Record reports. (Huden's Florida wife earlier told investigators that both her husband and Thomas confessed to her).

Thomas, free on bail and awaiting her trial while living with her mother on Whidbey, was formerly married to Mark Allen, multi-millionaire son of Bill Allen (a key figure in the Alaska oil corruption scandal that brought down Sen. Ted Stevens). The younger Allen is also owner of Mine That Bird, the horse that won the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

He and Thomas met in Vegas when she literally picked him up one night in 2006 - working as a limo driver.

After they wed and Thomas and her mother moved into his New Mexico horse ranch, Allen told SW, everything quickly went south, leading to a dragged-out divorce. He made her a millionaire with the subsequent settlement.

Thomas spoke only briefly to him about the murder case, Allen recalled. "I said why didn't you just take a lie detector and clear yourself? She told me her attorney said not to," Allen said. "That never really made sense to me, if she was innocent."

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