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Affidavit made public

One of Doug Porter's business associates recalls the former Hickman pastor saying everyone would be better off if Frank Craig were dead, according to a court document made public Tuesday.

The affidavit used to get an arrest warrant for Porter claims:

* Porter told conflicting stories about the car crash that led to Craig's death, saying he hit a boulder, or swerved to avoid another vehicle, or fell asleep at the wheel, or was pushed aside by a passing vehicle, the affidavit says.

* Craig had $1.1 million in an investment account when he gave Porter control of his estate, but less than $20,000 a year and a half later.

* Porter bounced several checks the same month he and Craig were in the first of two car crashes, when Craig's legs were crushed after Porter swerved into an oak tree.

* And near the end of his life, Craig shared suspicions about Porter with family members. "I really think he tried to kill me," Craig reportedly said.

These details, and many others, are found in the affidavit that was sealed when Porter was arraigned in Stanislaus County Superior Court on first-degree murder, attempted murder and theft charges in December.

Judge Loretta Murphy Begen lifted the seal Tuesday, after The Bee argued that Porter's right to a fair trial is not jeopardized if the public knows the basis for his arrest.

Porter, 56, is accused of killing Craig, a retired rancher, to inherit a trust that Craig wanted to spend on a museum showcasing farm equipment he had acquired over decades.

Porter was arrested Nov. 27 near San Diego as he returned to the United States from Mexico, where he was building a ministry.

He resigned from the Hickman Community Church in November 2005 and was known for his work as a wrestling coach at Hughson High School.

Porter has pleaded not guilty and is held without bail.

The judge released the affidavit over the objection of Deputy District Attorney John Mayne, who said he did not want the names of likely witnesses made public. Defense attorney Kirk McAllister said the affidavit is full of inaccuracies, and originally argued it should be sealed. He did not object Tuesday, however.

Mayne is seeking to have McAllister removed from the case, but the judge has not yet ruled on that matter.

The prosecutor said he believes the defense attorney has a conflict of interest because he also represents Lonni Ashlock, a potential witness who faces numerous felony charges in a real estate fraud case.

Ashlock had an office in a trailer on the grounds of Hickman Community Church and was project director for the Central Valley Museum of Agriculture, the showcase Craig dreamed of, which was never built.

LAWMEN: 2 SUSPICIOUS CRASHES

Craig, 85, died April 22, 2004, after the second of two auto crashes in which Porter was at the wheel and Craig was the passenger.

Investigators from the California Highway Patrol concluded that Porter made an abrupt left turn at about 2:55 p.m., sending Craig's pickup into an irrigation canal about a mile from Craig's home.

A day after the crash, Porter told a detective that he hit some rocks in the road and lost control.

The authorities concluded that the rocks were not a factor in the collision, because they were 100 feet from the point where the vehicle began its fatal swerve.

And there were no signs of fishtailing on the roadway, the affidavit said.

Two workers who had been on the roadway earlier that day did not recall seeing any rocks there. Neighbors who took care of Craig say they believe the rocks came from his own yard.

Detective Mark Copeland concluded that the rocks had been placed on the road near the time of the fatal crash, the affidavit says.

He said he found financial irregularities, too.

Porter told the detective Craig's trust still had $250,000. Investigators from the district attorney's office couldn't find any money.

According to the affidavit, Craig shared fears about Porter's spending and lack of progress on the museum just eight days before his death, with Bud Whitney of LaVerne, who is the husband of Craig's niece, Marilyn.

"Craig said he intended to halt the financial relationship between himself and Porter," Copeland said in the affidavit. "If Frank Craig accessed his accounts, he would have found them empty."

Craig survived a March 5, 2002, crash in which Porter's Toyota Tundra veered off Lake Road east of La Grange and struck an oak tree.

The detective concluded that the first crash, which happened at 1:10 p.m., was a crime as well.

According to the CHP, the passenger-seat airbag had been manually switched off and the seat belt could not be buckled because it was in a locked position.

Investigators found no evidence of braking.

Porter told authorities he was tired and squinting when a white car approached and crossed the double-yellow line. He said he had to swerve to miss the oncoming car.

Craig suffered major injuries to his legs and spent several months in a rehabilitation hospital. He could not walk without assistance.

Richard Peterson Jr., who took care of Craig for four months before his death, told authorities that the elderly man was suspicious about the first collision.

The museum was Craig's dream, four years had passed, and nothing had been done. Yet Porter was always asking for more money.

Less Orr took Craig to see the museum lot in 2003 and told the authorities that his friend was upset when he saw that no work had been done.

Orr recalled the scene in an interview Tuesday night with The Bee.

"Frank was so upset he vomited and said, 'Take me home.' He couldn't go to the Thanksgiving thing we always went to. I took him back home that day. It upset him something special," Orr said. "He expected to see a foundation that day and he didn't see a thing -not a form or anything."

After his death, Porter sold Craig's ranch on Riverview Road west of Hickman for more than $400,000.

And Craig's family members -- who later contested Craig's will in court -- got a chilly reception from Porter.

Cheri Galownia is the granddaughter of Craig's twin sister, Pearl Eastman. She recalled speaking to Porter after her family learned of Craig's death.

"He tried to cremate the body before we could see it," Galownia told The Bee. "Granted, Uncle Frank wanted to be cremated. But I had to call the medical examiner. When he found out another twin wanted to see the body, of course he was going to let the twin see the body."

HE DIDN'T TRUST BANKS

Craig never married and had no children. He was a simple farmer, but he inherited $1.5 million from a brother in 1998.

He may have had savings of his own as well, as he was notoriously tight-fisted, acquaintances said. Friends and family said Craig didn't trust banks, preferring to tuck his money away in nooks and crannies, or tin cans he kept at home.

As he became friendly with Porter, Craig's financial arrangements evolved, the affidavit said.

Craig amended his trust in 1999, giving Porter power over his health care decisions. Later, he gave Porter control of his finances.

He amended the document again, leaving his estate to Porter and the Hickman Community Church. In 2000, Craig gave Porter control over his property as well.

After he transferred control over his finances to Porter, monthly statements for Craig's investment accounts were sent to the church.

Investigators traced more than $300,000 that was transferred from Craig's accounts to Porter's accounts, and an additional $100,000 in checks made out to Porter.

A church secretary told investigators that Porter had been caught converting $15,700 from museum accounts for his use, and promised to stop, the affidavit says.

The authorities believe Porter also used Craig's money to buy a car, fishing equipment and pay taxes. He even used Craig's money to pay for driver training, according to the affidavit.

James TenNapel, a friend and former business partner of Porter's, lived along the canal, just upstream from the spot where the fatal crash occurred.

TenNapel worked for Porter, soliciting donations for the museum, and he received more than $30,000 from Craig's trust so he could move to Hickman.

Porter prohibited TenNapel from telling even his wife where the money came from, the affidavit says.

TenNapel told the authorities that Porter told four stories about the fatal crash. He also said Porter uttered several disparaging remarks about Craig, including three that are memorialized in the affidavit:

* "We are getting no more money from Frank until Frank dies."

* "We get nothing from that old guy until he passes on."

* "If the old guy would die we would all be better off."

In an interview with The Bee, TenNapel said he saw Porter drive in Craig's pickup on the canal bank the day before and the day of Craig's death.

Both times, Porter was driving fast.

"I'd been with Doug when he drove before, and he doesn't drive that fast," TenNapel said. "I'll never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I found out later that night what happened."

Bee staff writer Jeff Jardine contributed to this report. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or sherendeen@modbee.com.

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AT A GLANCE

Excerpts from affidavit by Detective Mark Copeland:

The first crash

(According to Bud Whitney, who is married to Craig's niece,) Craig was thinking the first collision was in fact not an accident. … Craig said, "I really think he tried to kill me. These last two years have been terrible."

The finances

(Ex-business partner James TenNapel) recalls Porter saying, "We are getting no money from Frank until Frank dies," or "We get nothing from that old guy until he passes on." Porter was heard saying many times, "If the old guy would die we would all be better off."

The second crash

Porter's story regarding the fatal collision about losing control because of rocks in the roadway does not conform to the physical evidence. These rocks appeared to be placed on the roadway near in time to the fatal collision.

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