Disguised as a telephone repairman, Raoul “Manny” Hughes walked up to an empty home on Thanksgiving afternoon in 2012.
He went around back, broke through a sliding glass door, raced upstairs, grabbed $6,155 worth of jewelry and was gone. But he made a critical mistake, cutting himself on the glass and leaving behind a bit of blood. His luck, police say, had run out.
Over the years, Maryland authorities had charged the 43-year-old with killing four people and trying to kill two more. Hughes had largely shaken off the cases. Charges dropped. Trials won. Convictions overturned.
But DNA in that blood helped convince a Montgomery County jury that he was a burglar, and on Tuesday a judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
“What goes around comes around,” Wesley Finklea, the uncle of two men Hughes was accused of gunning down in 1993, said Thursday. “He didn’t go away for the murders. Burglarizing homes — if that’s what it takes for him to die in prison, that’s great.”
Hughes’s twisted, extensive judicial history — stretching primarily over Prince George’s County, and also over Montgomery and Howard counties and the city of Baltimore — raises the question: Is he a killer who has gotten away with murder or a thief who was unfairly charged?
Finklea is convinced of the former: “At least we know he’s off the streets for a while.”
To friends and family, Hughes is charismatic, smart and too often the target. “When you have been in trouble, you’re easy to pick out,” his mother told The Washington Post in 2005.
Hughes was born Nov. 1, 1970, in Detroit, grew up in Prince George’s County and over the years worked as a barber and lived in the Takoma Park area.
Shortly after his 20th birthday, he staged a particularly audacious caper. Riding in a stolen 1986 Toyota 4Runner, he and a confederate crashed through the door of a gun shop in College Park at 6:08 a.m. They grabbed 15 guns, including three assault-style rifles, valued at more than $10,000. But the duo left behind mud flaps and paint from the SUV, helping lead to Hughes’s arrest and a two-year sentence.
In 1993, according to allegations made by Prince George’s police, he turned decidedly more violent.
On May 17, while riding with another man on Fairview Avenue in the Hyattsville area, he spotted a man named Donovan Boyle in another car — and the two started chasing Boyle’s car, which wrecked, prompting Boyle to jump out and run. Hughes caught up to him and shot him in the head, according to police accusations outlined in court papers.
On June 29, while police were seeking him on murder charges in Boyle’s death, Hughes was alleged to have been part of a small group that gunned down Raschon and Tyrone Finklea in the same area of Prince George’s County. A grand jury indicted Hughes on two counts of murder. He was tried, convicted and in 1995 given a long sentence: two terms of life in prison without the chance of parole.
Behind bars, Hughes kept filling appeals and petitions, notching a win in 1999 when Prince George’s Circuit Judge G.R. Hovey Johnson concluded that Hughes had received ineffective counsel and ordered a new trial. This time, with prosecutors unable to find some key pieces of evidence, a jury acquitted Hughes on all charges. He was a free man.
“He never should have been let out of prison,” said Wesley Finklea, the uncle of the Finklea brothers. He helped raised Tyrone Finklea’s son, who was an infant when his father was killed.
As for what happened to the assertions that Hughes killed Boyle, that’s not clear from court records. The charging papers are included in the file for the Finklea murders, but there is no indication he was ever indicted or tried in the Boyle case.
Years later, in October 2003, according to Prince George’s police, Hughes and another man, Russell Walker, were inside an Adelphi area apartment when they began arguing over a drug debt. Police alleged that Hughes shot Walker in the chest and ran. Again he was tried on charges of first-degree murder, and again he was found not guilty.
“The evidence just wasn’t there for a conviction,” Hughes’s attorney in that case, Peter Fayne, said Friday.
In 2006, detectives in Baltimore found themselves speaking to a shooting victim named Christopher Whitfield, who said that Hughes had shot him — but also made it clear he would be saying no such thing in open court, recalled Gary Proctor, a Baltimore defense lawyer who represented Hughes in that case.
“I will not sing,” Whitfield wrote as he spoke with detectives, Proctor recalled.
Hughes was charged with attempted murder and placed in jail as prosecutors prepared for trial. But Whitfield got shot again, this time fatally.
“Once Mr. Whitfield died — Hughes had nothing to do with it — the prosecutors’ case went out the window,” Proctor said.
A jury agreed, acquitting Hughes on all counts.
“He was a very likable chap,” Proctor said of his client. “Very charismatic, very smart. He testified, and answered all of the prosecutors’ questions gracefully.”
Apart from any alleged acts of violence, a different activity in Hughes’s life — breaking into homes — was holding up in court. By 2007, several break-ins caught up with him in Prince George’s, and he was sentenced to five years in prison, according to court records.
By Thanksgiving 2012, Hughes had been released on probation. He busted through the sliding glass door and stole about two dozen pieces of jewelry, including a $2,000 antique silver-and-pearl ring.
But he left two blood stains — a three-inch smear on an interior door and a drop on a pillow, presumably left there when he snagged a pillowcase to help cart off loot. Police tested the DNA, got a match to Hughes and booked him into jail in spring 2013. He quickly posted bond and was released.
During the next 10 days, according to court records, Hughes seemed to divest himself of any careful planning that had been the hallmark of many of his earlier crimes. On March 23, 2013, he crashed a black Chevy conversion van along East West Highway, drawing Takoma Park city police officers to the scene. They found him dazed, according to their records, found a PCP-laced cigarette on the floorboard, confiscated the van and booked Hughes back into jail.
Within the next two days, three things happened: Hughes bonded out of jail, detectives confirmed the van had been stolen and Hughes showed up at the Takoma Park police department asking for it back.
That ended in his arrest, right there inside the station, and led police to search the car he had arrived in — a black BMW. In the trunk, police found a duffel bag that held a jewelry box, foreign currency and several high-end purses — all items that police say tie Hughes to other break-ins. Montgomery prosecutor Curtis Zeager is scheduled to try Hughes for those events in June.
“One can successfully argue that Mr. Raoul Hughes is a cold, calculated, sneaky and uncaring burglar,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge Terrence McGann said in court on Tuesday as he handed down the sentence. “To refer to the defendant as a professional burglar is too flattering, too complimentary. He is a degenerate who slithers his way into people’s private homes and boldly and shamelessly pilfers their most prized possessions.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.