A man accused of shooting a Towson gas station owner last year was pressured by "a woman who would go to the ends of the earth to have her husband killed," his attorney told jurors in opening statements Friday. The murder-for-hire trial could be the first test of Maryland's new death penalty law.
Walter Bishop Jr., 29, is accused of fatally shooting William R. Porter in the face and head at a Hess gas station on Joppa Road in March 2010 at the behest of the victim's wife. Prosecutors say that Karla Porter paid Bishop between $300 and $400 and promised him $9,000 more.
"Folks, he did it simply for the money," prosecutor Jennifer Schiffer told jurors.
Schiffer indicated that Bishop's videotaped confession would be key to the state's case.
"You're going to hear the story of cold-blooded, premeditated murder from the defendant's own mouth," she said.
Karla Porter's trial is scheduled to start next year, and both she and Bishop could face the death penalty if convicted.
Under a Maryland law that took effect two years ago, prosecutors can only seek capital punishment when there is DNA or video evidence conclusively linking a defendant to the crime, or a video recording of a voluntary interrogation and confession.
Bishop's lawyers have argued that police did not tell Bishop that he was being recorded or warn him that because he was being recorded, he could be eligible for the death penalty. Bishop, who is from Essex, talked to homicide detectives for hours and reportedly confessed to the killing.
The defense on Friday never denied that Bishop shot William Porter. Instead, public defender Stefanie McArdle focused on the others involved in the case, saying that Karla Porter hounded friends and relatives, looking for someone to kill her husband.
"It's unbelievable the lengths that this woman went to, the number of people that she involved," McArdle said.
Karla Porter repeatedly called and texted a friend of her daughter's, asking her to buy cyanide, McArdle said. She relentlessly phoned a handyman she barely knew, asking him to kill her husband — calling from different phones so that the handyman wouldn't know who it was, she said.
Karla Porter contacted Bishop through her nephew, Seamus Coyle, whom Bishop had known since they were 5 years old, McArdle said.
Together, Coyle and Karla Porter "put an incredible amount of pressure on Walter Bishop" to kill William Porter, McArdle said.
Coyle was convicted of first-degree murder last year. In all, six people were implicated in the killing; two have been convicted and two have pleaded guilty.
Bishop was the only defendant "to own up to his role in this offense," McArdle said.
Jurors also heard Friday from the first of the state's witnesses, which included police officers, crime scene investigators and a medical examiner.
A Baltimore County police officer testified that Karla Porter was "hysterical" when police arrived at the gas station owned by the couple after the early-morning shooting, and that she described the shooter as a black man in a black hoodie. Bishop is white.
The trial is expected to last two weeks. It was moved to Harford County because of publicity surrounding the case.