Lack of evidence, ignored leads and reasonable doubt were key themes for the jury to consider from the defense team of Terence Kindlon and Laurie Shanks, as they put the finishing touches on their case in the murder trial of Christopher Porco.
Both the prosecution and defense delivered their closing arguments on Wednesday, Aug. 9, to a packed courtroom of family members and friends of the defendant. Many members of the media, including CBS Mystery 48 Hours, and a host of Albany and Delmar residents came to Goshen in Orange County, including Bethlehem Police Chief Lou Corsi and Albany County District Attorney David Soares. Another 50 people waited outside the courtroom to observe summations, each holding a slip of paper with a number on it to be allowed inside by court officers.
All of us want to feel safe that killers are not in our neighborhood, began Shanks, who presented the defense summation. `The danger is, sometimes the desire for closure can overcome other more important considerations.`
The defendant, who is on trial for murdering his father, Peter Porco, and attempting to murder his mother, Joan Porco, watched his lawyer closely as her presentation began.
`It is up to you to figure out whether the theory police officers had in this case was tested,` Shanks said. `Did they (the police) look for evidence that did not support their theory?`
Shanks said the murder of Peter Porco and the attack on Joan Porco is a horrible crime, the likes of which a community the size of Delmar has never seen.
Appellate Court Officer Michael Hart, a witness, was pointed out by Shanks as someone with the professionalism and experience to observe a crime scene he first thought was a struggle, but later realized it was not.
`He was not stubborn and resistant to change his opinion,` said Shanks, unlike other police officers who arrived at 36 Brockley Drive in Delmar on Nov. 15, 2004, shortly after the crime.
Shanks then spoke about the nod that Joan Porco made to paramedics and police officers in the upstairs master bedroom when they found her lying in a pool of blood with several critical injuries. Bethlehem Det. Christopher Bowdish testified that Joan Porco nodded yes when asked if her son Christopher had committed the crime.
`She lost a tremendous amount of blood, her skull was split open, one eye was severed, blood covered her face and the fact is that Joan Porco was asleep at the time she was attacked,` said Shanks.
Shanks characterized Bethlehem Police Det. Christopher Bowdish as having a `hunch` Christopher Porco had committed the crime when Joan Porco nodded her head at the scene.
`There was no way of knowing if she was conscious or unconscious,` said Shanks. `Can we base an entire investigation on this and nothing else?`
Shanks reminded jurors about a charge Judge Jeffrey Berry often gives, not to speculate, asking them if they really believe Joan Porco’s answers to officers at the scene are reliable or not.
`Instead of talking to a neurologist they put out a Bolo (Be on the lookout) and within 30 minutes, Det. (Anthony) Arduini is at Dr. (Elaine) LaForte’s hospital saying it doesn’t look good for Chris,` said Shanks.
Shanks said the police were ready to call for helicopters and ask for backup from state police to find Porco, but instead they received a surprise.
`He calls them from his dorm room and says I got a call saying my parents are dead,` Shanks said. `Imagine what it would be like to admit you may have solved the worst crime to ever be committed in Bethlehem, and you put that word out with no evidence.`
Christopher Porco was 21 years old when the crimes against his father and mother were committed. The defense believes the prosecution is painting Porco as someone slick enough to be able to commit murder and leave behind no fingerprints, no blood marks, and no physical evidence.
`What we have learned about Christopher is that he is not sophisticated, he is not violent and he is not capable of committing not only a perfect crime, but a horrific crime,` said Shanks.
Porco’s yellow Jeep Wrangler has been the subject of much speculation and witness testimony in the trial. Shanks said police found no evidence in Porco’s Jeep after it was ripped apart inch by inch.
`If Chris had gone from this blood-soaked house into the Jeep, what would we find?` asked Shanks. `We did find absolutely nothing to connect Christopher Porco to the crime scene.`
Over and over, Shanks repeated that maybe the police should have refocused and reconsidered their original premise that Porco committed the crime.
`No, they said they were going to ignore that,` said Shanks.
She reminded jurors of the testimony of Margaret Fennell, who said Joan Porco saw a stranger in the driveway prior to the attacks, and Richard Hanft, who talked about a death threat Peter Porco received several years prior and that none of these and several other leads were ever followed up on.
`I don’t know how many other calls came in that were ignored,` stressed Shanks.
The defense brought out a timeline of their own, but much different than the prosecution’s timeline of the murder of Peter Porco. The defense’s timeline involves testimony given by pathologist Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard that Peter Porco’s time of death on Nov. 15, 2004 was anywhere between the hours of 1:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., and that Peter Porco was alive several hours prior to his death.
`It is only by using their witnesses time frame that it is physically possible for Christopher Porco to be in his parents’ home in that time frame,` Shanks said.
Shanks added that the clock in the security alarm system installed in the Porco home was improperly recorded and never checked. The prosecution showed detailed video images of Christopher Porco’s Jeep leaving the University of Rochester on Sunday evening, Nov. 14 and heading back toward the campus Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. The defense believes Porco could have been traveling to the nearby fast food restaurants and not back to Delmar as the prosecution wants the jury to believe.
`They didn’t go to Dunkin’ Donuts and they didn’t go to Wendy’s, even though there were receipts in the car,` said Shanks.
Shanks said authorities started to believe something was wrong with Porco when all other leads failed.
`But what evidence do they have?` asked Shanks. `He is not on drugs and he never fought with his parents. There is no evidence of rage or of Christopher Porco being capable of such a crime.`
Several e-mails between Christopher Porco and his parents were submitted as evidence by the prosecution. It is their belief that the e-mails show a strained family relationship that resulted in Porco attacking his parents with an ax. Shanks said the e-mails show something entirely different. Joan Porco’s last e-mail six days before the attack is upbeat, and in it, she is looking forward to seeing her son at Thanksgiving.
`Is this the e-mail of a mother about to write off her child?` asked Shanks. She added that even though Christopher Porco lied to his parents about his school academics and finances, his father Peter was still willing to take out a loan in his name to help his son pay for tuition.
`We know they decided they were going to take care of everything,` Shanks said.
As for Marshall Gokey, the prosecution’s witness who testified he saw a Jeep in the Porco driveway at 4 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2004, Shanks said Gokey testified he could not see more than 10 feet away that morning.
`So, ladies and gentlemen what are we left with?` asked Shanks. `We are left with no physical evidence connecting Christopher Porco to the crime and no reason why he would want to kill his parents.`
She added that Porco was better off financially with his parents alive than dead.
`Christopher is not violent, and he is kind to animals,` said Shanks. `We like to have mysteries solved. We know if this case was on CSI it would be solved in an hour or two. What if at the end of the trial we just don’t know who did it?`
Shanks added that the trial was at the point where all the questions have yet to be answered.
`Think about the evidence, and think about the lack of evidence,` said Shanks.
With that, the defense rested.