Michael McDermott, chief prosecutor in the Christopher Porco murder trial on behalf of Albany County District Attorney’s office, said either Christopher Porco is guilty of murder or Christopher Porco is the unluckiest man on the face of the planet.
McDermott began his closing arguments in the Porco murder trial Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 9, following the summations by the defense, saying that after 4,000 pages of transcript, 80 witnesses and 450 pieces of evidence, two questions exist.
`Did Christopher Porco drive back to Delmar in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2004 and cause the death of his father Peter Porco and intend to cause the death of his mother?` asked the prosecutor.
McDermott, like Defense Attorney Laurie Shanks, equated Delmar and the town of Bethlehem as a safe community, virtually crime free.
`The Porcos lived a very ordinary, conventional life, worked hard, lived in a nice neighborhood and a few years down the road, looked forward to retirement,` he said.
Their house was secured with security alarms and broomsticks wedged between sliding glass doors, but tragedy visited the home on that fateful day.
`The person who broke into the house came in with one and only one purpose, to take their lives in a very brutal and personal way,` said McDermott.
McDermott said the case against Christopher Porco began with a nod by his mother Joan telling police who committed the crime as she lay near death.
`All of these people told you unequivocally that Mrs. Porco was conscious, alert, and responding to commands and she was adamant,` said McDermott. `There was no mistaking her response when she nodded her head and pointed her fingers to express who had committed the crime.`
McDermott said the police were obligated to pursue every lead, and one of the lingering questions after the crime was to try and find out where Christopher Porco had done.
`This proved to be a very complicated question,` said McDermott.
University of Rochester student Marshall Crumiller is the last person to have seen Porco the night before the murder, after 10 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004. The next time anyone saw the defendant was the following day at 8:45 a.m. Rachel Boylan saw Christopher Porco running back to Munro Hall as she looked down over a bridge on the campus.
`So let’s ask ourselves, where was Christopher Porco?` asked McDermott.
Porco told his frat brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon that he gave his room up to a visiting fraternity region leader and he would be sleeping in the Munro Hall student lounge the evening of the crime. The defendant told his uncle, John Balzano, the same story when Balzano drove Porco back to Albany to see his mother, who was in a coma at Albany Medical Center. The police asked seven different students if they saw Porco sleeping in the student lounge and the answer was the same seven times.
`No, Christopher Porco wasn’t there,` said McDermott.
It is at that time, said McDermott, that `it is not quite as simple to eliminate Christopher Porco as the parents’ attacker.`
Police then investigated the yellow Jeep Wrangler Porco purchased by forging his father’s signature on a $17,000 loan to obtain it, but there is no blood in the Jeep. McDermott then showed the jury grisly photos of the crime scene that disturbed a few friends of Christopher Porco in attendance for the first time in the courtroom. The photos, according to McDermott, showed that the blood from the victims is away from where the assailant is standing.
`There would not have necessarily been a lot of blood for the defendant to deal with,` McDermott said. The prosecution also believed since the murderer stayed in the Porco residence for over two and half-hours, there was plenty of time to change and get rid of any evidence from any articles of clothing worn.
`This is someone who, in the words of John Kearney, D.V.M. (Christopher Porco’s employer at the Bethlehem Veterinary Hospital) is used to dealing with bloody messes,` said McDermott.
McDermott reminded jurors that the Porcos installed a security alarm after their home was burglarized in 2002, and that burglar was later found to be none other than the defendant. Only four family members had access to the code to disarm the security alarm at 36 Brockley Drive in Delmar and those four people were Peter and Joan Porco, Johnathan Porco, who can be accounted for at the time of the crime, and Christopher.
`It was like dropping a wallet at the crime scene,` said McDermott, adding that the defendant didn’t know the alarm had a computer hard drive in the basement that stores all entries when the code is disarmed.
Prosecutors then believe Porco used the key in the flowerpot outside the front door to gain access inside.
`Sarah Fischer testified he used the spare key all the time to get into the house,` said McDermott.
A garage screen was cut with a sharp instrument the same way it was cut when Porco burglarized the home in 2002.
`This is also, ladies and gentlemen, the only window not set to the security alarm on the first floor,` said McDermott. `Now who would know that?`
McDermott said Porco broke into the home in 2002 and stole items because he needed pocket money.
`In November 2004, he needed a lot more,` McDermott said.
Because Porco lied about his academics and lied about how he obtained his vehicle, prosecutors believe the forged loans and maxed-out credit cards had begun to take over Porco’s life.
`The killer staged a break-in, and finally, ladies and gentlemen, nothing was taken,` said McDermott.
The theory is that Porco filled his gas tank after he returned from Slingerlands to see his girlfriend at a gas station close to the Rochester University campus. The tank was filled late Saturday night and witnesses testify Porco was at the university all day Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004, but the gas tank when found by police on Monday after the crime has a mere 4.8 gallons of gas left.
`Where did all that gas go?` asked McDermott. `It surely wasn’t a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts or a trip to Wendy’s,` as the defense has suggested.
It was at this point that the defense began to vehemently object to much of McDermott’s last several minutes of his closing argument. The first and strongest objection came when McDermott reminded jurors that a DNA expert witness for the defense, Prof. William Shields, had also testified in the Scott Peterson and O.J. Simpson trials.
`This is a scurrilous and despicable attempt to reference my client with Scott Peterson and is completely unnecessary,` said Defense Attorney Terence Kindlon.
The statement was stricken from the record, and Judge Jeffrey Berry admonished McDermott. The defense called for a mistrial after the summations and Judge Berry reserved his decision, meaning he didn’t issue a decision on the spot.
McDermott then mentioned the DNA on the Thruway toll ticket between Henrietta, near Rochester, and Albany, that could be a match to Porco. Then the prosecution laid out its timeline for murder.
The prosecution’s theory is that Porco left the University of Rochester campus at 10:30 p.m. Sunday evening and headed for the Exit 24 Henrietta tolls toward Albany. Thruway toll collector John Fallon testified that he saw a yellow Jeep go through his toll both at 10:45 p.m. Albany Exit 24 toll collector Karen Russell testified that she saw a yellow Jeep come barreling down her lane at 1:51 a.m. early Monday . The security alarm to 36 Brockley Drive was disarmed at 2:14 a.m. and phone lines were cut outside the house at 4:54 a.m. Surveillance cameras outside the University of Rochester picked up Porco’s yellow Jeep the next morning, at 8:30 and Rachel Boylan spotted Porco running in the direction of his dorm at 8:45 a.m.
`The only time the Jeep is seen, is when it is coming back to the campus on its way back from Albany,` said McDermott.
The final pieces of the puzzle are the e-mails between Peter and Joan Porco to their son during 2004.
`These e-mails paint a much different portrait of what was going on in the Porco family home than close friends were aware of,` said McDermott. The e-mails talked about Porco’s academic deficiencies, his pattern of lies, the forged loans, and the failure to own up to responsibility.
`Peter Porco is no longer taking his answers at face value,` McDermott told jurors. `His mother writes, ‘your lies are driving a wedge right between our hearts.’`
The attacks occurred, and Peter Porco was murdered while Joan was severely attacked and left for dead. That Sunday and Monday before and after the crime, Porco told friends he was upset because he could not get in touch with his parents.
`But there are no calls from Christopher Porco to 36 Brockley Drive, and no such phone calls at Peter Porco’s work,` said McDermott.
McDermott termed an e-mail written by Porco to his parents the afternoon of Nov. 15, 2004, after the crimes occurred, as a stroke of genius.
`I submit to you that he knew his parents’ bodies are going to be discovered, and police are going to look at him,` McDermott said. `Let’s send out one e-mail saying everything is taken care of, and everything is fine.`
McDermott finished by saying that on the night of Nov. 14 and in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2004, Christopher Porco drove from Rochester to Albany, used the key inside the flowerpot next to the front door to get inside, disarm the alarm, attack his parents with a 3-foot ax then head back to the University in Rochester before students woke for class the next morning.
`Fulfill your oath as jurors,` urged McDermott. `If the defendant is guilty, he must be sentenced.“