Towson-area murder suspect says husband abused her

Defense contends family knew wife of gas station owner suffered for decades

March 12, 2010|By Nick Madigan | nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Karla Porter, the White Marsh woman accused of enlisting three family members to help kill her husband, is considering a psychiatric defense and will argue that she suffered from decades of physical and emotional abuse, her attorney said Thursday.

A prosecutor, meanwhile, said Porter could face the death penalty for her role in the killing of William "Ray" Porter, who was shot March 1 outside his Towson-area gas station and died two days later.

The 47-year-old mother of three was denied bail for a second time Thursday, despite pleas from her attorney that she "desperately needs to meet with psychiatrists and her legal counsel" to prepare her defense against a charge of first-degree murder.

"She is a flight risk, and she is a danger to the community," Judge Ruth A. Jakubowski said of Porter, who stood before her in Baltimore County Circuit Court wearing blue jeans, a red blouse and shackles.

As details of the alleged murder-for-hire scheme continue to trickle out of the courts and police records, Thursday's hearing offered a glimpse of a suggested motive for the killing.

Police have said Porter tried to hire someone in December and January to kill her husband, claiming he was abusive. But her attorney, Francis A. Pommett III, alleged Thursday that the mistreatment had gone on for years and that their knowledge of it had played a role in her persuading her relatives to help.

"Why would someone agree to do something like that unless there had been decades of abuse?" Pommett asked in an interview after the hearing.

"There's going to be a psychiatric element to this case," he said, adding that his client's case will include "at the very least a battered-spouse syndrome defense."

The suggestion of an abusive relationship came as a surprise to some of the couple's acquaintances. In the Wiltondale neighborhood of Towson, where Ray Porter undertook numerous renovation projects during the past decade, Preston Birckner considered him a friend. He hired him to put a roof on his front porch last year and was about to ask for a quote on a large addition to his house.

"He was very well loved around here, always easy to work with and very amiable," Birckner said. "He seemed like a real nice guy. Everyone around here thought he was the greatest guy.

"I never heard anything about any kind of abuse," he said.

Birckner said he had spoken to Karla Porter only a few times, and saw her most recently at her husband's wake.

"She seemed upset," Birckner said.

Porter is charged with five others in her husband's death. Among them is her sister, Susan Datta, who is accused of having supplied the weapon; her brother, Calvin Lee Mowers, who allegedly drove a hit man to the scene; and a cousin, who police say introduced the killer to Porter.

The cousin, Seamus Anthony Coyle, who contends that he had no role in the crime, plans to seek his release, according to his attorney.

Also charged with murder are Walter Paul Bishop, 27, who is accused of firing the gun that killed Ray Porter, and Matthew Philip Brown, 28, who police say went along for the ride.

According to charging documents released to The Baltimore Sun, Brown told police he met with Karla Porter and discussed the killing at the Joppa Road Hess station that she and her husband owned. He also boasted that he and Bishop joked about the slaying a few days after it happened. Bishop told police that Porter paid him $9,000.

Detectives found the weapon used in the crime and ammunition in the pocket of a coat hanging in a closet at Brown's house, police reports say.

While Porter's defense apparently will center on the possibility that the victim's alleged treatment of his wife drove her to have him killed, some people involved in the case are skeptical. Two law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators are exploring the possibility that Ray Porter's money provided a motive for the killing.

In addition to the gas station, the Porters owned more than a dozen rental properties, and Ray Porter ran a thriving home-renovation business. Though only 49 years old, he had been thinking about retiring to Florida in the near future - a point of contention between the couple.

Pommett said he believes the couple's house in White Marsh to be "free and clear" of debt. The lawyer said foreclosures on two of the Porters' rental properties, listed in court records, occurred "some time ago" and "wouldn't necessarily mean that things were that dire."

"I never knew of any financial problems" in the couple's affairs, said Pommett, who has known Karla Porter for several years.

In arguing for her release on $500,000 bail, Pommett said his client needs to meet with psychiatrists and lawyers. "She won't be able to do that in the Baltimore County Detention Center," he said.

Assistant State's Attorney John Cox disagreed, accusing Porter of orchestrating "all the acts that gave rise to the murder of her husband." He called her "cold and callous."

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