Man whose convictions were overturned runs for Lincoln County sheriff

A Lincoln County man imprisoned for 2 1/2 years on sexual assault convictions before the verdicts were overturned said he’s running for sheriff to reform the criminal justice system.

Anthony Huss said he wants no one else to go through what he did. He said his background as a military police officer helps qualify him for the county’s top law enforcement post.

“I lost my business,” Huss said. “I lost seven years of my life.”

Huss, 40, is a registered Libertarian who said he’s running unaffiliated. He gathered the required 100 signatures of qualified voters for his name to count as a write-in candidate on the the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

He faces incumbent Republican Sheriff David Carpenter, who said he believes Huss is guilty of the offenses in the 2007 incident involving Huss’ ex-girlfriend. No Democrat is on the ballot.

In a four-hour interview on Sept. 4, Huss told the Observer he maintained his innocence all along and was vindicated by the November 2012 N.C. Court of Appeals ruling that reversed his convictions. The court unanimously dismissed the convictions based on what it called insufficient evidence, according to a copy of the ruling.

The state appealed, and it took another year before the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court ruling and Huss was freed.

Huss graduated from West Lincoln High School in 1993 and served eight years in the Navy. He was a petty officer and for two years a military police officer.

He spent three of his four active duty years in Japan and turned pro as a mixed martial arts competitor there. He was twice named All-Japan mixed martial arts champion.

He opened a mixed martial arts academy in Lincolnton in 2003 and later moved it to Hickory, he said. Branches opened in Marion, Albemarle and Greensboro.

Huss and his ex-girlfriend met in 2006 when she attended one of his self-defense classes, according to court records. They later became romantically involved, but Huss eventually learned she’d also been dating another man, according to court records.

The couple eventually agreed to no longer see each other. They met at Huss’ home in May 2007 to end the relationship for good, court records say.

Huss told the Observer he videotaped the May encounter, which court records confirm, to prove he didn’t assault the woman.

Lincoln County sheriff’s investigators, however, charged him in 2007 with second-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree sexual offense when the woman reported the encounter after another argument with Huss.

In July 2011, a Lincoln County jury found him guilty of all charges, and he was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

He said he was confined to a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell at the Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville. “It’s bigger if you’re a midget,” Huss said.

Huss is 6 feet tall, about 230 pounds and sports a handlebar mustache and goatee.

He appealed his conviction, but he said his court-appointed lawyer did nothing about the case for nine months. He then contacted the N.C. Office of the Appellate Defender in Durham.

Lawyer Daniel Shatz from that office took on the case and successfully argued that the prosecution failed to prove its charge of rape involving a “physically helpless” victim. The Appelate Court’s ruling found the woman hadn’t been physically helpless.

The state appealed the ruling and lost, which is why it took until December 2013 for Huss to be released from prison.

The woman who made the allegations against Huss couldn’t be reached for comment.

Huss said one of his goals as sheriff would be to prevent innocent people from being imprisoned. He said investigators never interviewed him before filing the charges. Getting a full report is vital, he said. “It’s to make sure it doesn’t happen to somebody else,” he said.

Huss also said he had to contact the N.C. Attorney General’s Office to get his name removed from the state sex offender registry. He said Carpenter put his name on the list the day he left prison.

Carpenter, who’s finishing his first four-year term, denied that. He said Huss’ case happened under a previous sheriff. But, he said, it’s not a sheriff’s responsibility to remove names from the registry.

Huss also questioned the propriety of Carpenter sending a retired sheriff’s detective to the Lincolnton home where he was living after his release, and for the sheriff to show up 1 1/2 hours later.

Carpenter said he never sent the retired detective. He said he did visit the home to check on Huss’ residency after receiving information that Huss was living outside the county, possibly in Mooresville.

Huss said he’s conducting a “boots-to-the-ground” campaign, greeting shoppers outside Walmart and entering a float in Lincolnton’s July Fourth parade.

“What they did to me gave me the opportunity to go through this process, and I want to fix that process,” Huss said.