A companion of Daniel S. Porter on the night Porter allegedly confronted a racially mixed couple and then chased the man into the path of a pickup truck has testified that the defendant hated blacks.
Shortly before the incident, "he [Porter] was saying that he didn't like race mixing," Wayne Kern, 18, testified yesterday during the first day of Porter's non-jury trial on charges of assault, reckless endangerment and racial harassment.
Herbert E. Jennings, 33, who is black, was walking with his white girlfriend in the mostly white Highlandtown area the evening of July 19 when Porter and a group of whites reportedly taunted him with racial slurs. Porter allegedly chased Jennings onto Eastern Avenue, where the victim slipped and fell under the wheels of a pickup.
Porter, 21, faces a maximum penalty of 28 years in prison if convicted.
The case was the second racial incident reported in Baltimore that week. On July 18, a black man was stabbed to death and another was beaten by a group of whites in Remington after an argument over a public telephone. The two incidents sparked a citywide summit on race relations last November attended by more than 2,000 people.
A cook at Haussner's Restaurant on Eastern Avenue, Jennings lost sight in his left eye, suffered brain swelling and a fractured spine in the incident, according to medical testimony. He was admitted to the Shock-Trauma Unit in a coma and was hospitalized for two months. He then spent nearly three months at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital.
Jennings took the stand yesterday. Wearing a navy-blue suit and wire-rimmed glasses, the short man walked slowly, occasionally reaching for the courtroom's brass railings for balance. He recalled July 19. It was a Thursday, pay day. He was going out for a movie at Patterson Theatre and a couple of drinks with his new girlfriend, Jennifer Gonzalez.
They stopped at the City Limits, a bar at Eastern and East avenues. As they walked outside the bar later, the driver of a red pickup said of Porter and Gonzalez: "What's this, salt and pepper night?"
"I kind of caught on later on," Jennings said. "It meant that by Jennifer being white and me being black something [was] wrong."
Suspecting trouble, Gonzalez, whom Jennings had been dating about two weeks, asked Jennings to leave. "Buttons, run!" Jennings heard her yell, using his nickname. He took off on East Avenue toward Eastern.
"I heard footsteps behind me, large footsteps," Jennings said. "I remember falling into the street. I tried to get up real fast. As I turned over, I saw a truck coming and I hollered. . . . That was it."
Gonzalez, 33, testified that before Jennings was struck the driver of the red pickup stopped on East Avenue and asked whether Jennings had a problem. After Jennings began to walk away, she said, the driver approached her and she pushed him off. "Back up, white boy," she said she told him. He went back to the truck.
About the same time, Porter and two others were walking along East Avenue, she said.
"Do you want me to get the . . . for you?" Gonzalez heard Porter ask the driver of the red pickup. "The gentleman in the truck yelled yes."
Porter then allegedly began chasing Jennings.
Another pickup truck -- not involved in the racial taunting -- struck Jennings as he fled, said Gonzalez. "I heard someone yell, 'Oh, my God,' " she said.
The men in the red pickup drove away.
Anthony Bailey, 15, testified that he stopped at an ice cream shop near the intersection of Eastern and East that night. He said he heard Porter yell at the driver of the red pickup: "Do you want me to . . ."
Prosecutor Jack Lesser told Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman the case was about "bigotry and hatred." The alleged crimes reflected Porter's racist attitude, he said.
Daniel Marcus, an assistant public defender, said his client was singled out by the state's attorney's office while the men who "instigated" the incident got away. Porter gave chase because he thought Jennings had done something to the white woman, Marcus said.
Porter, who was expected to testify today, has an IQ of 72 and has been under psychiatric counseling much of his life, Marcus said. "If people are litigated under our system of justice to uphold certain laws, but their beliefs are somewhat different, that does not in itself make that person a criminal," he said.