Victim decries sentence given in racial attack Judge gives man 5 years, but may reduce it later.

April 02, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

Nearly nine months after he was chased into the path of a truck and nearly killed, Herbert Jennings still has nightmares about the racially motivated attack.

"I wake up in cold sweats," says Jennings, a small and frail man. "That's from seeing the truck's lights before it ever hit me. . . . That's all I see."

Jennings, 33, says he has another reason to remember last July 19. It was his daughter's eighth birthday.

Yesterday, Daniel Spencer Porter, 21, who psychiatrists say is just above the upper limit for mental retardation and has been treated for hyperactivity and psychiatric disorders since he was six years old, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but five suspended, for the assault.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman, saying the defendant acted out of his hatred for blacks, also sentenced Porter to concurrent terms of four years for reckless endangerment and three years for racial harassment. Porter also was placed on five years' probation.

While conceding that Porter, of the 3300 block of Leverton Ave., did not belong to any white supremacist organization, the judge said he wanted to send a message to "hate groups" and their sympathizers.

"Punishment has more than one purpose," Hammerman said. "Rehabilitation of the defendant is only one. We also have to consider the purpose of deterring the conduct by you and by others in the community."

Hammerman, however, said he would consider reducing the sentence in six months if Porter's behavior in prison was "perfect."

"Your future is in your hands," the judge told Porter, who has been described by court and private psychiatrists as quick-tempered and sometimes hostile.

Before sentencing, Porter, a chubby and baby-faced man wearing a navy-blue suit, said, "I'm sorry this ever happened."

A bitter Jennings said later that he felt defeated by the judicial system. "Let me put it this way, he [Porter] won," said Jennings, who lost the sight in one eye, suffered a fractured spine and brain damage in the incident.

Jennings preferred a sentence of "28-plus" years, more than the possible maximum 28 years. "He deserved it," he said.

"He could be out on the street in six months and Herbert is this way for life," said lawyer Harvey J. Siegel, whom Jennings consulted for a possible civil suit against Porter.

Prosecutor Jack I. Lesser asked for a minimum sentence of 10 years. Porter faced a maximum of 28 years on the three misdemeanor counts.

"On July 19, 1990, the defendant imposed a life sentence on Herbert Jennings," Lesser said.

Daniel J. Marcus, an assistant public defender, rec-ommended a lengthy period of probation, noting that Porter had no prior juvenile or adult record.

"If you put him in the [Division] of Correction, you are putting him in jeopardy," Marcus said. "Mr. Porter has gotten the message."

Medical reports filed in court depicted Porter as troubled man who had been treated for alcohol abuse and had, at times, used cocaine, marijuana and LSD. Court-appointed and private psychiatrists described him as "aggressive," "explosive" and "easily angered."

A pre-sentencing report said Porter once beat up his stepfather. Another time he chased a doctor from a room because he wanted to be left alone. Porter has been treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a personality disorder and mild depression, the report said.

Jennings, who is black, and his white girlfriend, Jennifer Gonzalez, testified at Porter's trial last January that an unidentified man in a pickup truck yelled racial remarks at them as they were walking along Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown. The driver followed them from Eastern Avenue onto East Avenue, where Porter saw the harassment and joined in with racial epithets.

Porter chased Jennings, a former cook at Haussner's Restaurant, back toward Eastern Avenue, according to trial testimony. Jennings fell under the wheels of a truck as he attempted to cross the busy street.

"It was kind of hard for me to see him [Porter] the way I would like to have seen him -- up close," Jennings said yesterday of his day on the stand.

Jennings has been living with his mother, Estella, in her home on Reisterstown Road. She said her family "mingles with people of any color," but some relatives vowed revenge after learning what had happened to her only son. But she intervened.

"It would have been a riot," Estella Jennings said. "They stayed away from the area. I had to be a strong person."

Jennings spent two months in a hospital and now attends eight hours of rehabilitation daily at a clinic known as the Center for Living. He receives physical therapy and works on his memory, speech and even his cooking.

Jennings, a cook at Haussner's for 13 years, says he would like to return to work in Highlandtown. "Right now, I feel good," he said. "Maybe I'll feel better. . . . I'm working to bring my mind back together."

Estella Jennings watched her son come close to death, but she said she knew all along that he would make it. "Prayer and faith," she said with a smile.

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