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News Maryland Baltimore County Towson

Baltimore County murder-for-hire case now in the hands of the jury

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Karla Porter sparred Monday over whether a woman who admits hiring a man to kill her husband should be convicted of murder or manslaughter.

Jurors began deliberating after both sides in the White Marsh woman's trial made closing arguments in a weeklong case that tested the reaches of battered-spouse syndrome as a defense.

Karla Porter, 51, could be sentenced to up to life without parole in the death of her husband, William "Ray" Porter, who was shot at his Towson gas station three years ago. She took the stand last week and described numerous instances of physical and verbal abuse, and said his death was her only way out.

But prosecutors called several friends and relatives of the couple who disputed details of the alleged abuse. Prosecutors have charged Porter with first-degree murder and at one point sought to seek the death penalty.

"Even if they [allegations of abuse] were true, they do not amount to a self-defense in this case," Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Schiffer said. She told jurors they must find that Porter felt she was faced with imminent harm, which is unlikely given that Karla Porter instigated the shooting.

Schiffer said Ray Porter was not a threat the day he was killed. He was on crutches from an ankle injury and was counting merchandise at the gas station when Walter Bishop Jr. shot him twice. Bishop has been convicted in the shooting.

Karla Porter's attorney, William Purpura, argued that imminent self-defense is subjective, and that because Karla Porter suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress, she perceived her husband to be a greater threat.

"You have to look at her history," he said, noting the abuse she observed as a child by her mother's boyfriend. And when Karla Porter was just 19, she met Ray Porter and he became controlling early on in their relationship and would isolate her from others, Purpura said.

He said she had no time of her own and was constantly serving Ray Porter, making his meals and cleaning the home, and felt she could never sit or else he would become angry with her.

"Imagine living your life that way," Purpura said to the jury.

"In her mind, she was in imminent fear," he said. He said she believed that she was in imminent danger. He said her sister had testified in the past that the relationship had changed, with more fights, but that Karla Porter was too afraid to leave. In her mind, Purpura said, Porter learned from her mother that when such abuse occurred, she should accept it.

"It's come full cycle," with Karla Porter telling her own daughter to not worry about the fights, the bruises, he said.

But Schiffer argued that Karla Porter planned her husband's death for months, contracting two other men and asking them to kill Ray Porter. She also asked a friend about how to get poison to kill him, prosecutors have said.

"This case is the definition of premeditated," Schiffer said.

Schiffer also told jurors that they have to evaluate Karla Porter's credibility, saying that much of her account of abuse was put in doubt by witnesses.

Karla Porter described one incident when she was driving home and pulled to the side of the road because she said Ray Porter had threatened to kill her. A neighbor stopped to see what was the matter and she told him about the threat.

The state later called the neighbor, who recalled the incident differently but said that Karla Porter had told him that her husband threatened to kill her.

Purpura noted that the neighbor still testified to the threat. He said the Porters' daughter testified that her mother was abused and suffered various injuries.

Obviously, he said, Karla Porter was not thinking rationally when she went to several people and asked them to kill her husband. She was not thinking about what she would say to police after her husband's death, or how she would protect herself then.

"She didn't think past the death of Ray Porter," he said.

jkanderson@ baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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