Ex-pastor Porter sentenced to life; maintains innocence

12/12/2008 1:08 AM

12/12/2008 4:29 PM

Former Hickman pastor Howard "Doug" Porter, convicted of murdering an 85-year-old rancher in a vehicle crash in April 2004, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole this afternoon in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Porter sat stoically as one of Craig’s family members got up to speak. He nodded in agreement to some of the things the man said about Craig, then sat immobile while the man accused him of taking Craig’s life.

When Judge Thomas Zeff gave him the chance to address the court, Porter maintained his innocence.

"Frank Craig was a friend of mine. He was a friend of mine until the day he died," Porter said. "This was an accident, and I tried to save his life."

The courtroom was crowded, with many of Porter’s family members waiting outside in the hallway to see Porter as bailiffs led him away. Porter, 57, was convicted by a jury in August of murdering Frank Craig, along with elder abuse causing death and theft from an elder by a caretaker.

Jurors also said Porter is guilty of two special circumstances that require a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole: murder for financial gain and murder to silence a witness to theft.

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Craig enlisted Porter’s help in 1999, when the rancher inherited $2 million from a brother and struck a deal with the preacher to build an agricultural museum. Authorities said Porter siphoned $1.1 million from Craig, using the money to supplement his lifestyle and subsidize a family compound in La Grange.

Craig was crippled March 5, 2002, when Porter’s truck veered off Lake Road and slammed into a tree. Craig drowned April 22, 2004, after his truck, driven by Porter, veered off an embankment and plunged into the Ceres main canal.

Earlier this week, Zeff denied a motion for a new trial from Porter’s defense attorney, Kirk McAllister.

During a hearing on Tuesday, McAllister argued that prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have changed the outcome of the verdict.

Zeff said he did not find any wrongdoing by the prosecution, and the testimony provided to support the re-trial motion wouldn’t have been enough to change the jury’s verdict.

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