PORTER TRIAL ON FOR NEXT WEEK: The case against former Hickman pastor Howard "Doug" Porter is moving full speed ahead toward trial, with attorneys and a judge Tuesday putting the finishing touches on a questionnaire they will use when potential jurors show up for service next week in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Judge Thomas Zeff set an aggressive schedule for jury selection, saying he would not allow endless questioning of every person called for jury duty. The judge said he hopes to begin opening statements in late May and send the case to the jury by late July. The case involves the death of elderly rancher Frank Craig, who entrusted his $2.5 million fortune to Porter, believing Porter would help him build an agricultural museum. Porter was at the wheel during two car crashes involving Craig: a March 2002 wreck that crippled Craig and an April 2004 wreck that killed him. The authorities claim Porter drained Craig's accounts without making substantial progress on the museum. Porter, 57, is charged with murder, attempted murder, theft or embezzlement from an elder adult by a caretaker and elder abuse causing death. He has been held without bail since his arrest Nov. 27, 2006. A conviction could result in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
LA GRANGE MAN DIES IN CRASH: A La Grange man died Tuesday morning after a Jeep he was driving went off a rural road and crashed near Highway 132 in La Grange, the California Highway Patrol reported. Joseph Dias, 52, was driving in the single-vehicle accident on his own property, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman. Dias was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash was reported to the CHP at 10:42 a.m. and occurred near Highway 132 and La Grange Road. Dias was the brother-in-law of former pastor Howard "Doug" Porter of Hickman, who is awaiting trial on murder charges. The defendant's wife, Vicki Porter, confirmed Tuesday that her brother died earlier in the vehicle accident in La Grange.
GUNMAN ROBS MUSIC STORE: An armed man robbed a music store in south Modesto Tuesday morning and got away with cash, said a Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman. No injuries were reported. Sheriff's officials described the robber as a white man in his mid-20s, about 6 feet tall and weighing about 140 pounds. The robber had a bald head and was wearing a black shirt and bright-colored shorts. Deputy Royjindar Singh said the robbery occurred shortly before 11:30 a.m. at Meno Music Supply in the 1800 block of Crows Landing Road. Singh said the robber entered the store and pretended to be browsing among the merchandise as he waited for all the customers to leave. He then went to the front counter and demanded, at gunpoint, cash from the clerk. Singh said the robber left the store with the cash and the clerk's purse. The store clerk ran out and yelled for help from employees and customers of a nearby tire shop. Singh said some of the men gave chase on foot, but the robber jumped into a white Ford Taurus and drove away. One of the men chased the robber in his own vehicle, but he lost sight near Dallas Street and Hatch Road after the robber started driving erratically and ran a few stop signs, Singh said. The Sheriff's Department asked anyone with information about this robbery to call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers can leave an anonymous tip and may be eligible for a cash reward.