The man convicted of killing a Towson gas station owner for money apologized Tuesday in Harford County Circuit Court to the victim's family and friends, saying "I'm sorry to the last fiber of my being." The apology came shortly before a jury was to begin deliberating whether Walter P. Bishop Jr. will be sentenced to death or life in prison.
Bishop, 29, of Baltimore County, stood at the defense table in a black suit and a lavender shirt open at the collar, his hands clasped before him, his face turning red as he told those close to William "Ray" Porter that he did not expect they would forgive him. But, he said, "I'm sorry you lost your son, your loved one because of what I did with my own hands."
Bishop, facing the death penalty for shooting Porter in a Hess station on East Joppa Road on March 1, 2010, said he relives the events of that day every morning and every night.
"Not a day will go by that I will not relive this and regret this," said Bishop, who spoke for two minutes during the sentencing phase of his trial. Bishop was convicted last week of first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy and a handgun offense – one of six people who have been implicated in the killing, including Porter's wife, Karla Porter, who is scheduled to be tried next year.
Bishop's trial was moved out of Baltimore County at the request of the defense.
The case is the first courtroom test of Maryland's two-year-old revised capital punishment law, which sets restrictive standards on the types of evidence required for a defendant to be subject to the death penalty. In this case, prosecutors can seek the death penalty because they have a video recording of a detailed confession Bishop gave to Baltimore County homicide detectives when he was arrested five days after the killing. The jury decided last week that the confession was "voluntary" and meets the state standard.
Bishop's remarks in court — his first statements since the trial began — were part of the defense's attempt to persuade the jury to decide against the death penalty. Stefanie M. McArdle of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender acknowledged that Bishop had committed a "horrible, horrible" crime, but she argued that several mitigating factors about Bishop's life and the crime weigh against the death penalty in this case.
"He is not to be judged solely on what happened that day," McArdle said.
Jurors began deliberating Tuesday; they adjourned about 7:30 p.m. and were scheduled to return Wednesday morning.
There is no dispute that one of several legal mitigating factors applies in this case: that Bishop had not previously been convicted of a violent crime. But Assistant State's Attorney John P. Cox argued that no mitigating factors are sufficient to outweigh the aggravating factor that allows the death penalty in this case: that Bishop shot Porter on a promise of being paid. Bishop told police that Porter's wife offered him $9,000 to kill her husband.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors presented only one witness, Porter's younger brother, Rick Porter, of Baltimore County, who talked about his brother, a father of four, and the impact the crime has had on the family. The defense presented 12 witnesses, including Bishop's parents, his friends, a psychologist, social worker and psychiatrist who interviewed Bishop.
According to testimony, Bishop was 4 years old when his parents split up, his father had little time for him and his stepfather suffered from a disability and drug addiction. Witnesses testified that Bishop had never been in trouble with the law as an adult, but when he was 14 he was charged with a third-degree sex offense in an incident involving an 8- or 9-year-old girl who was a relative.
McArdle argued that the evidence shows Bishop would not be a danger to others in prison, and he was induced to shoot Porter by Karla Porter.
"He never, ever would have conceived of this on his own," said McArdle. "I ask, if you've ever had mercy for anyone, have mercy for Walter Bishop."
Cox argued that Bishop had the gun for days before shooting Porter and had plenty of time to consider his decision.
Cox countered the defense portrayal of Bishop as remorseful, reminding the jury that Bishop first tried to deny his involvement in the killing, then claimed that he had "closed his eyes" before shooting Porter in the gas station office.
"That man's eyes were open the whole time," said Cox. "He shot [Porter] in the face up through his forehead. Then he stood above him and pumped a round into the side of his head. Weigh that against anything you've heard in this case."