Woman goes on trial in killing of Towson gas station owner

Datta, 52, accused of murder, conspiracy in March death of Porter

November 18, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A 52-year-old Essex woman accused of helping to set up a $9,000 contract killing provided the gun used in the crime, making her equally responsible for the victim's death, a prosecutor told a jury Thursday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Susan M. Datta is one of six defendants accused of murder, conspiracy and other crimes in the killing of William R. Porter, who was shot in the head March 1 after being lured by a false alarm to his gas station on Towson's East Joppa Road.

During opening statements, prosecutor Jennifer Schiffer told the jury that the crime was orchestrated by the victim's wife, Karla Porter, and that she was helped by Datta, her sister, and her 53-year-old brother, Calvin L. Mowers, as well as a nephew and another man. Schiffer said police officers summoned to the scene found the victim, known as Ray, "lying in a pool of his own blood" and that nothing could be done to save him.

The prosecutor said Datta arranged for her sister to have a gun with which to kill Ray Porter, and that, in an interview with detectives, she had acknowledged acquiring the weapon two weeks earlier for that purpose. Schiffer said also that Datta, who waived her Miranda rights before her admission to the detectives, had arranged for the hitman to be driven to the site of the killing.

"If not for her participation, this crime would not have succeeded," Schiffer told the jury as the defendant, wearing an off-white sweater, gray slacks and black shoes, sat expressionless at the defense table.

In his opening statement, Larry B. Litt, Datta's lawyer, said that she "knew nothing about a killing." As for supplying the weapon, he said, Datta was not questioned by the police as to how, specifically, she had acquired the gun. Such an omission, he suggested, left room for reasonable doubt as to her culpability.

Litt said that, over the years, Karla Porter had been subjected to "substantial domestic violence" by her husband, including being "thrown down the steps" and "hit with a crutch on the back of the head."

On Sept. 23, one of the other defendants in the case struck a deal with prosecutors, just as his trial was to begin. Matthew P. Brown, 28, who prosecutors said rode with the hitman to the site of the killing, pleaded guilty to a single count of first-degree murder in the death of Porter. Two days earlier, another defendant, Seamus A. Coyle, 28, who is Karla Porter's nephew and who prosecutors said introduced her to the prospective hitman, was found guilty of first-degree murder and two other counts.

Mowers, who prosecutors say drove the gunman to the gas station, pleaded guilty Sept. 3 to first-degree murder. Of the two remaining defendants, Karla Porter is set for trial on April 4 and Walter P. Bishop Jr., the alleged shooter, on June 6.

According to testimony in Coyle's trial, Karla Porter had been talking for a year or more about getting someone to kill her 49-year-old husband. She was quoted as having told the other defendants that he had been abusive toward her, but Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said there was no evidence of mistreatment and that no complaints to that effect had ever been filed with authorities.

Prosecutors said Karla Porter used her cell phone to lure her husband to the Hess station the couple owned by staging a false alarm before the business opened that morning. She then called Bishop, who drove to the station with Mowers and Brown, prosecutors said.

Ray Porter was shot multiple times and died the next day. His wife, who told police she had stepped outside just before the shooting took place, said the crime had been committed by a black man, roughly 25 years old and wearing a hoodie, during a holdup attempt. None of the defendants is black.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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