First defendant in court guilty in gas station murder-for-hire trial

Nephew of widow is first to stand trial in the case of alleged murder-for-hire at Towson gas station in March

September 20, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A 28-year-old Rosedale man who prosecutors said introduced a prospective hitman to a woman looking to have her husband killed was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder and two other counts in the murder-for-hire scheme.

A jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Seamus A. Coyle guilty of participating in the March 1 murder of a Towson gas station owner, William Raymond Porter. Coyle was the first of six defendants to be tried, and faces a life sentence.

"He was an important go-between," Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said outside the courthouse after the verdict. "And it was important that he be held accountable and be punished."

Shellenberger noted the "number of people who were involved" in the conspiracy to kill Porter, any one of whom "could have stopped this." He said that prosecuting Coyle presented a challenge because it required convincing the jury of the culpability of a person who everyone agreed was not at the scene of the crime. His conviction, Shellenberger said, supports the legal theory that anyone who helps to commit a murder is as responsible as the person who actually carries it out.

A date for Coyle's sentencing was not set. The trial of a second defendant, Matthew P. Brown, is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The next to be tried will be Susan Datta, while Karla Porter — the victim's wife — and the alleged gunman, Walter Bishop, are scheduled for trial early next year. The sixth defendant, Calvin Mowers, who prosecutors say drove Bishop to the gas station on the day of the killing, has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Coyle's attorney, Roger L. Harris Jr., said the jury "made the wrong decision," and that he would appeal. He said his client was "crushed" by the verdict and "couldn't believe he was convicted."

During closing arguments, prosecutor Jennifer Schiffer told the jury that Coyle's role in the murder was "crucial," and that the crime could not have succeeded had he not introduced Karla Porter, his aunt, to Bishop, his best friend. At that meeting, which took place in a Walmart parking lot the month before the killing, Porter and Bishop exchanged phone numbers, Schiffer said. A couple of weeks later, she went on, the defendant set up and attended a second meeting between the two, at the Bel-Loc Diner in Parkville.

Schiffer then played for the jury a recording of Coyle's interview with a detective, in which he acknowledged helping Karla Porter "find someone to take care of" her request. When the detective asked him to be specific — "to kill Ray?" — Coyle answered, "Yes, sir."

On the tape, Coyle recalled his aunt telling him, "Seamus, I've got to do this, I've got to do this." Then, showing he understood the seriousness of acting as what the prosecution called "a broker" between killer and client, Coyle told the detective, "I'm going to be in tremendous trouble for that, but I promise you I did not set this up."

Deputy State's Attorney John P. Cox, who prosecuted the case alongside Schiffer, said in court that phone records showed Coyle's involvement to be greater than he had acknowledged, including a flurry of conversations he had with both Karla Porter and Bishop not only shortly before the killing but almost immediately afterward.

According to testimony in the trial, which began on Wednesday, Karla Porter had been talking for a year or more about getting someone to kill her husband.

Karla Porter was quoted as having told the other defendants that her 49-year-old husband had been abusive toward her, but Shellenberger said outside court on Monday that there was no evidence of mistreatment. The couple owned a Hess gas station on East Joppa Road, and according to prosecutors Karla Porter used her cell phone to lure her husband to the business in the early hours of March 1 by staging a false alarm. She then called Bishop, who drove to the gas station with Mowers and Brown, prosecutors said.

Ray Porter was shot multiple times in the head and died the following day. His wife told police the crime had been committed by a man who had held up the business.

Acting on a tip, detectives focused instead on the widow, and the police chief said later that Karla Porter had "arranged for the death of her husband" for a $9,000 fee, split between several men.

Harris insisted in his closing argument that his client had never believed that Karla Porter was serious about going through with her husband's killing or that Bishop, a "computer geek," would actually carry out the murder. From Coyle's perspective, his lawyer said, Karla Porter had been talking for so long about getting permanently rid of her husband that no one thought it meant anything.

"He thinks in his head, she's sweet Aunt Karla," Harris told the jury. "He doesn't want to push her away because she's been there for him."

The prosecution wants "you to believe that Seamus Coyle aided the commission of a murder," Harris said. "No. He aided a conversation."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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