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Porter agrees to keep judge in murder case

Opposing sides in former pastor Doug Porter's murder case gathered Wednesday to discuss his attorney's conflict of interest. But that was trumped by the judge's conflict.

Because of a recent administrative shift, prosecutor John R. Mayne now is supervised by Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerry Begen. He is married to Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Loretta Murphy Begen, who oversees Porter's case.

"We want to stay in this courtroom," Porter's attorney, Kirk McAllister, told the judge Wednesday. "Because of the timing, though, the thought came to me that (maybe) the DA's office made a tactical move to get us out of this department."

The judge told Porter of his right to be tried by someone whose husband is not the boss of the man hoping to put Porter in prison. Porter signed a waiver to let the judge continue presiding.

Porter, 56, former pastor of Hickman Community Church, is charged with killing an 85-year-old man to inherit his $1.1 million fortune. Frank Craig drowned in the second of two auto crashes with Porter at the wheel.

After the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley denied that her office wants another judge to try one of the county's highest-interest cases. The conflict "never entered our minds" during the office reor- ganization, Shipley said.

The purpose of Wednesday's hearing -- McAllister's conflict -was addressed, but the problem was not resolved.

McAllister had represented Lonni Ashlock, a Porter associate who might be called to testify in Porter's case. Ashlock faces 56 counts of theft and real estate fraud in a trial set for October.

Mayne initially sought to have McAllister removed as Porter's attorney. Ashlock has hired another attorney and agreed not to contest McAllister's switch to represent Porter, even if Ashlock is convicted.

The judge scheduled a hearing April 25 to receive Ashlock's waiver.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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