Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aging killer may get reprieve from death row

July 21, 2010



Prosecutors won't seek to send convicted killer George Porter, 78 years old and ailing, back to death row.

"Because of his age, if we were to seek and obtain it, it would never be executed," said Christopher White, chief of operations for the Brevard-Seminole State Attorney's Office. "It is not practical."

The appeals process for death sentences may take decades. In prison since 1988, Porter likely will be sentenced to a third life term in August.

Porter was found guilty of two charges of first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Evelyn Williams, and her boyfriend, Walter Burrows, in Melbourne. He was sentenced to death in the Williams homicide and two life terms for Burrows' death and the related armed burglary.

The state attorney's office's decision comes after the United States Supreme Court in November overturned Porter's death sentence, citing his record as an infantryman in Korea and emotional trauma he suffered.

The court's decision reversed a federal appeals court and a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

"Our nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines as Porter did," according to the Supreme Court ruling.

The court said Porter had ineffective

"Although the burden is on the petitioner to show he was prejudiced by his counsel's deficiency, the Florida Supreme Court's conclusion that Porter failed to meet his burden was an unreasonable application of our clearly established law," according to the ruling.

Combat stress

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the November ruling was the first time the Supreme Court ruled combat stress be among factors juries should consider in capital offenses, meaning any criminal charge punishable by death.

The court cited the intense trauma Porter suffered in Korea, including "fierce" hand-to-hand fighting with the Chinese.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Porter's attorney didn't thoroughly investigate his client's background.

"Although Porter had initially elected to represent himself, his standby counsel became his counsel for the penalty phase a little over a month prior to the sentencing proceeding before the jury," according to court papers. "It was the first time this lawyer had represented a defendant during a penalty-phase proceeding.

"At the post-conviction hearing, he testified that he had only one short meeting with Porter regarding the penalty phase."

Abused child

According to court documents, Porter had a violent father who once shot at him for being late and beat him regularly.

"According to his brother, Porter attended classes for slow learners and left school when he was 12 or 13," the Supreme Court document said.

Porter joined the Army at 17 and took part in the Korean conflict. He won two Purple Hearts and a combat infantryman badge.

More than three decades later, in July 1986, Porter threatened to kill Williams when their relationship was coming to an end, records said. He then left the state.

Back in Florida by October, Porter tried to contact Williams, but her mother said the ex-girlfriend did not want to meet him. He spent the night before the killings drinking at cocktail lounges.

"Early the next morning, Porter shot Williams in her house," the document states. "Burrows struggled with Porter and forced him outside where Porter shot him."

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