Accused of ordering a man to kill her husband at a Towson gas station, Karla Porter claims that she felt she had no other choice as she sought to escape an abusive relationship in which she believed her life was in danger.
"Ray Porter had become verbally abusive, controlling … physically abusive," Porter's attorney, Teresa Whalen, said in opening statements Tuesday. She said Porter's husband once ground her face into her mother's headstone, telling her she should be dead, too.
But prosecutors urged jurors not to lose sight of the fact that the White Marsh woman arranged the hit on her husband and tried to mislead authorities, starting with the 911 call in which she claimed that an unknown man had shot her husband and fled the scene.
"She was a person who got the ball rolling," Assistant State's Attorney John Cox said in court.
William "Ray" Porter died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head March 1, 2010, at the Hess gas station he owned off of Joppa Road. Police eventually charged five people, including Karla Porter, who is the last defendant to go to trial and who could face a life sentence for first-degree murder.
Whalen said the jury should consider the 24 years of abuse Porter says she endured from her husband. She said family members and friends will take the stand in coming days to talk about why Porter felt she was in fear.
"His anger controlled the relationship," Whalen said. She said Karla Porter was constantly trying to keep her husband's anger at bay so that he would not grab her, strike her, throw things at her.
At one point, Whalen said, Ray Porter pointed a gun at his wife and threatened to kill her. "Not one person is going to miss you," Whalen said he told her client. Karla Porter did not call police, and Whalen said expert witnesses would testify that domestic violence victims often do not contact the authorities.
Cox said Porter called her husband to the gas station that day by triggering a false security alarm. She was also the one to call 911 after the shooting. In the following days, a police sketch artist used Porter's description to draw a young black man in a black sweatshirt.
Walter Bishop, the man convicted of shooting Ray Porter and allegedly hired by Karla Porter, is white.
According to prosecutors, Karla Porter had tried to order a hit on her husband before.
Tony Fails, who had bought a house from the Porters, went to police after hearing about Ray Porter's death because he saw the sketch and feared he might be considered a suspect.
On the stand for the state Tuesday, Fails, who is black, said Karla Porter had approached him about killing her husband months before he died.
"She was going off about how Ray was abusing her," he said, adding that he didn't understand why someone he did not know well was confiding in him. But as Porter became increasingly distraught, Fails said she asked him whether he might "take care of Ray."
Police asked Fails to set up a meeting with Porter and record their conversation. He said he met her in a gas station parking lot and told her he needed money to get out of town because he thought he would be arrested.
"You're making me a little nervous," she said after giving him cash, according to the recording played in court. "I just don't want you going somewhere talking."
After her arrest, Cox said, Porter initially denied involvement in her husband's death. After a later admission, she described how abusive he was said, Cox said, and said she just wanted someone to beat him up. Cox said Porter "wanted him to know how she felt."