From The Charlotte Observer By Michael Gordon, November 14, 2013
Earlier this year, Chris Huffman wrote of feeling like a prisoner.
Now he’ll live out his life being one.
Huffman, 42, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder in the shooting death of Charles “Mike” Middleton, his one-time Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, neighbor and friend. Superior Court Judge Richard Boner sentenced Huffman to a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
On the morning of Jan. 25, Middleton, a longtime volunteer in Charlotte’s 12-step community, was shot 11 times in front of his home in the Sedgefield community. Police found him on the sidewalk, still wearing his bedroom slippers.
Huffman, 42, was arrested three days later in Casa Grande, Ariz. When police approached him, he raised his hands over his head before being ordered to, prosecutors say. When asked whether he knew why he had been stopped, Huffman said it was probably for a murder warrant in North Carolina.
Prosecutors say the murder weapon – a 9 mm Glock pistol – was still in his car, along with a large amount of ammunition and a log Huffman had kept over the recent days.
“I’m a prisoner until shot set me free,” he wrote at one point. “No fear in shot.”
Thursday, handcuffed, shackled and wearing a prisoner’s orange togs, Huffman told Boner that he understood that his guilty plea meant he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. Although Huffman had been found mentally competent to stand trial, his attorney, Lawrence Hewett, asked the judge to stipulate that Huffman receive all the prison mental-health treatment available.
Huffman met Middleton in an AA meeting and later asked him to be his sponsor, a mentoring relationship that’s at the heart of most 12-step recovery programs. They were already neighbors in Sedgefield, and they became friends.
But after a while, Huffman started missing meetings, then stopped coming altogether. Prosecutors said the friendship frayed. Weeks before the shooting, Huffman stopped returning calls from family and friends.
Before dawn on Jan. 25, neighbors heard a volley of gunshots on Elmhurst Road. Neighbors saw a man running from the vicinity of Middleton’s home. Three days and 2,000 miles later, Huffman surrendered peacefully to police.
“I wish Chris had stayed with the program,” Daryl Hammonds, who knew both Huffman and Middleton, told the judge.
Standing in front of the courtroom and occasionally glancing down at some hand-written notes, Hammonds talked of the many people Middleton had helped, how 400 people showed up for the funeral, and how he didn’t think Chris Huffman could do what he did.
“I wish I could stand up here and say I’m angry,” Hammonds said. “But I hope Chris can find some peace for the rest of his life. I feel sorry for him, but most of all I feel sorry for his parents.”
Huffman didn’t react. He stared straight ahead until Boner announced the sentence, and a deputy sheriff led Huffman through a courtroom door.