Karla Porter matter-of-factly confessed on Thursday to hiring a hit man to kill her husband, testifying that she had him shot because she feared he would kill her first.
"If Ray was alive, I would be dead," Karla Porter said as she gave three hours of testimony in her murder trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
The 51-year-old White Marsh woman could face life in prison in the death of William "Ray" Porter, who was gunned down March 1, 2010, at the Towson gas station he owned. Walter Bishop, the hired gunman, was convicted and is serving a life sentence for accepting $400 to shoot Ray Porter.
Karla Porter fought back tears as she described years of abuse — she said her husband once spread dog excrement on her and another time pointed a gun at her head — but spoke calmly while discussing the murder.
She had previously denied that she ordered the killing, but her defense has accepted the allegation at trial as her attorneys seek to convince jurors that she was facing an imminent threat when she hired Bishop. They hope to use that assertion to persuade the jury to convict her of a lesser crime.
"She's not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder," defense attorney Teresa Whalen said as the trial opened Tuesday.
But prosecutors have argued that Porter should have turned to law enforcement if she needed help. The state claims that she plotted Ray Porter's demise for months — offering to pay three different people to kill him. She allegedly asked a fourth person how to get poison, which prosecutors say she intended to use to kill her husband.
During cross-examination, Deputy State's Attorney John Cox questioned why Porter never reported the abuse to authorities nor sought medical treatment. Prosecutors have described Ray Porter as a hardworking man who rose early each day to work at the gas station and then at other jobs.
"You never sought the assistance of anybody? Of police?" he asked.
Porter said repeatedly she was afraid of her husband and did not want to upset him. She also said she was afraid to tell anybody about the abuse.
Cox also asked Porter why she did not mention some of the more serious incidents to a doctor during a psychological evaluation shortly after she was arrested. She said she did not have enough time during the exam.
The prosecutor questioned her about others who might have witnessed the abuse.
Porter said she often tried to hide it from others, but confided in her sisters and a colleague.
Porter said she was abused repeatedly through 24 years of marriage, a problem that escalated as the couple prepared to move to Florida in the weeks before Ray Porter's death. She told jurors she was afraid to leave her family and friends.
"I just wanted to kill him first," she said.
Porter testified that she asked several people to kill her husband — including her daughter's then-boyfriend — as a way of reaching out for help. She recalled how she paid the young man $1,000, but he didn't go through with it.
She said her daughter thought the money was for a trip to Ocean City.
Months later, she contacted another man about killing Ray Porter, but he did not carry out the crime and would later tell police about the offer, according to court testimony.
Porter said her husband had become controlling even before they were married. She said she lost her job at an insurance company after he repeatedly called to check on her. Ray Porter isolated her from friends and told her she wasn't good enough, she said.
Cox asked why she stayed in the marriage.
"I didn't leave; I was too afraid," she said. Porter said fear would often keep her from doing what she wanted or speaking out against the abuse.
She said Ray Porter once got angry while trying to hang curtain rods, and took it out on her by pushing the power drill into her stomach. And in the days before he was shot, he had injured his ankle in a snowstorm.
She said he blamed her because if they lived in Florida, there wouldn't be snow, and he hit her with his crutch.
"I felt he was going to kill me there," she said.
On the morning of Ray Porter's death, Karla Porter said she called her husband to the gas station by telling him the alarm company called about the security alarm going off. She then called Bishop, the gunman, 53 times that morning.
She would later go to the gas station. While setting up racks of merchandise outside, she saw Bishop but did not speak to him. He would eventually follow her inside, pull a gun from his sweatshirt and open fire, killing Ray Porter.
Karla Porter called 911 and told police that a young black man did it. She would later recant her story, telling detectives that she just wanted the abuse to stop.