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Judge will unseal affidavit in death

A judge said Friday she will unseal an affidavit used to obtain an arrest warrant in the case of former Hickman pastor Doug Porter, who is charged with murder.

But the records, which give a detailed account of the district attorney's case, will not go public until Feb. 6 at the soonest.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Loretta Murphy Begen said she had to balance two important, competing interests: The community's right to receive uncensored news and Porter's right to a fair trial.

She considered the matter at the request of The Bee, which said records sealed at Porter's arraignment should be open to public inspection.

She overruled the objections of a defense attorney and prosecutor, but said the document will remain confidential for six weeks, so the defense can contact witnesses before their identities become public.

The judge said she will entertain further objections from attorneys involved in the case, but added that her intent is to unseal the record.

Porter, 55, is accused of killing longtime Hickman resident Frank Craig to inherit a multimillion-dollar trust Craig wanted to spend on a museum showcasing farm equipment he acquired over decades.

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

Craig, a retired rancher, inherited stocks and real estate from his brother. He drowned after a pickup driven by Porter plunged into an irrigation canal.

PASTOR HAS PLEADED NOT GUILTY

Porter, who is charged with murder, attempted murder and theft from an elder adult, has pleaded not guilty and is held without bail.

He 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 Hickman Community Church a year ago and is known for his work as a wrestling coach at Hughson High School.

So far, most information about the case has come from a criminal complaint that lists the charges Porter faces and from Craig's family, who pursued Porter in a lawsuit to keep a criminal investigation alive.

Defense attorney Kirk McAllister asked the court to seal all warrants during Porter's initial court appearance two weeks ago, and Deputy District Attorney John Mayne joined in his request.

They said the affidavit contains detailed information, including the names of witnesses and their likely testimony, which should not be made public until trial.

Mayne argued that Porter's case had received even more publicity than that of Columbus Allen Jr. II, the Stockton man accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer during an early morning traffic stop in February.

He said the screening of potential jurors and cautionary admonitions, when judges warn jurors to base their decisions on the evidence they receive at trial, are not enough to ensure a fair trial.

"The arrest warrant is a highly detailed warrant with a great deal of information," Mayne said.

McAllister argued that he could not effectively represent Porter if news reporters talked to witnesses first. He said the record should be sealed until a preliminary hearing is held.

NO MEDIA HORDE AT HEARING

It is not uncommon for a year or more to pass before a preliminary hearing is held. A prosecutor lays out his or her case at that hearing so a judge can determine whether a defendant should be held for trial.

"The media tends to scare people off, for very good reasons, and I want to get them in their pristine state," McAllister said.

Both sides conjured up images of a gaggle of reporters with camera crews in tow, shouting their questions while bright lights shine in witnesses' eyes.

The Bee was the only media outlet at Porter's hearing; cameras have been banned from the courtroom for the duration of the case.

Attorney Karl Olson, who represents The Bee, said the law establishes a heavy burden for those seeking to seal records that are presumed to be open for public inspection.

He cited precedent-setting cases involving movie star Clint Eastwood, the Ninja prowler who committed several rapes in Riverside County and a nurse who murdered 12 people, in which attempts to seal records failed.

He said the attorneys could not show that it would be impossible to select 12 jurors if the media is given details about the basis for Porter's arrest.

He noted that Porter's case is not like the Scott Peterson case, where the search for Laci Peterson and the trial of Scott Peterson received extensive coverage from national news outlets.

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

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