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Waivers from suspect, lawyer may fix murder case conflict

A prosecutor's effort to get defense attorney Kirk McAllister kicked off former Hickman Pastor Doug Porter's murder case appears doomed.

Porter on Tuesday agreed to waive any conflict of interest stemming from McAllister's previous representation of a business associate, Lonni Ashlock, who is charged with real estate fraud.

An attorney for Ashlock said he will waive the conflict as well.

Judge Loretta Murphy Begen seemed poised to accept waivers but said she could not proceed until they are put in writing. Further discussion is expected April 18.

The extent of the relationship between Ashlock and Porter is disputed in legal papers filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court. And it is important, because conflicts can prompt reversals if convictions are appealed.

Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne said Ashlock, who is suspected of cheating people facing foreclosure by getting them to sign over the deeds of their homes through predatory lending schemes, will be a witness in Porter's case.

He could get a deal, the prosecutor said, if he offers testimony that implicates Porter in the murder of Frank Craig.

"Mr. Ashlock participated in what the people allege is a fraudulent misuse of Mr. Craig's money by being a beneficiary of that money, and by being on the board of directors of an organization whose money was converted by defendant Porter to personal use," Mayne said in legal papers.

Craig, a retired rancher, entrusted his $1.1 million fortune to Porter in hopes that the pastor would help build a farm equipment museum. Craig died April 22, 2004, in the second of two auto accidents in which Porter was at the wheel.

Investigators allege Porter drained Craig's accounts without making any progress on the museum that Craig envisioned.

Ashlock ran his business from the grounds of Hickman Community Church, where Porter was pastor, in a building rented with Craig's money.

McAllister represented Ashlock during a monthlong preliminary hearing last fall, then dropped out of the case in February after he agreed to represent Porter.

The defense attorney called church secretary Cathy Bergman to the witness stand during Tuesday's hearing.

She said Ashlock volunteered his time on the museum project, which was headquartered in the modular church building. She said Ashlock reimbursed Craig's trust for business ex-penses such as rent, electricity and telephone calls.

McAllister said he does not expect Ashlock to play a significant role in Porter's case, adding that the authorities didn't seek to talk to him until shortly before Porter's Nov. 27 arrest.

"If in reality Mr. Ashlock had any role to play in the Porter case, one might think that the detectives would seek to talk to him before 2½ years elapsed!" he said in legal papers.

Mayne initially asked the court to disqualify McAllister. Later he agreed that the court can preserve the integrity of the process by getting written waivers from Porter and Ashlock.

McAllister noted that appellate courts also may reverse convictions if defendants are denied the counsel of their choice.

Porter, 56, is charged with murder, attempted murder and theft. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Ashlock, 56, is charged with 34 counts of theft, 22 counts of real estate fraud and drug possession. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $100,000 bail.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be contacted at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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