An imperfect system for matching fingerprint records by hand helped Norman Porter Jr. avoid capture for more than a decade, federal law enforcement officials said yesterday.
Arrested several times since escaping from a minimum-security prison in Massachusetts in 1985, Porter is back in custody thanks to a routine update of computerized fingerprint records, said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson.
The computers were able to make a match that humans couldn't find.
"We realized that we had multiple identities on the same print," Bresson said, explaining how authorities only last month matched fingerprints from a 1993 Chicago arrest of Porter, who used the alias Jacob Jameson.
"We found two identical records," he said. "Two different names but the fingerprints were the same."
Porter, a convicted double-murderer who lived in Chicago as a poet named J.J. Jameson for about 20 years, was seized on the city's far west side Tuesday morning and extradited to Massachusetts late Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to an escape charge during a brief court appearance yesterday morning before a Superior Court judge in Dedham, Mass.
Porter's attorney at the arraignment, Thomas D. Herman, said the plea allows time for counsel to develop a defense prior to a pre-trial hearing next month.
Herman, who represented Porter during commutation proceedings in the 1970s and 1980s, said his client appeared to be relieved in the wake of his capture.
"He'd been hearing footsteps behind him for many years and they [aren't] going to be coming anymore," Herman said. "He is looking ahead. He hopes some day not to be in prison."
"He said when he gets out he wants to live the rest of his life in Chicago," Herman said.
Herman and another Porter attorney, Gordon T. Walker, said they intend to pursue new commutation petitions on behalf of their client. Porter must serve at least five more years on his second murder conviction and faces up to 10 additional years for his escape, Herman said.
Porter is being held in MCI-Cedar Junction, a maximum-security prison in Walpole, Mass., where he will likely remain while in custody, Herman said.
"He should have been commuted 20 years ago," said Walker, who said he received about four phone calls from Porter while he was a fugitive. "Not only is he not a cop killer or a cold-blooded murderer but he's a very decent guy."
Porter pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 1960 shotgun killing of department store clerk John "Jackie" Pigott and the 1961 shooting death of Middlesex County jailer David Robinson during a jailbreak by Porter and a gunman accomplice.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.