Former Hickman pastor Doug Porter pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges at an arraignment Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Judge Loretta Murphy Begen also scheduled hearings for two matters: The Bee's request to unseal records related to his arrest and a prosecutor's challenge to Porter's lawyer.
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 at the wheel and Craig was a passenger.
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The retired rancher inherited stocks and real estate from his brother. He drowned after a pickup driven by Porter plunged into an irrigation canal.
Craig had survived a March 5, 2002, crash in which Porter's pickup veered off a road and struck an oak tree, but he could not walk without assistance afterward. Porter walked away from both crashes.
Porter, who also is charged with theft from an elder adult, 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.
Earlier this month, the judge agreed to seal search and arrest warrants at the request of defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who said the contents must be kept from the public to ensure a fair trial.
Deputy District Attorney John Mayne joined in the request, but said he will challenge McAllister's ability to represent Porter because McAllister represents a potential witness who faces charges in another case.
The defense attorney represents Lonni Ashlock in a real estate fraud case. Ashlock, who had an office in a trailer on the grounds of Hickman Community Church, was project director for the museum, which was not built.
Begen said she will hear arguments about the prosecutor's challenge to McAllister on Feb. 6.
Friday, the judge will hear a motion brought by The Bee, which argues that publicity alone is not enough to seal records that are presumed to be open for public inspection.
In legal papers, attorney Karl Olson of San Francisco, who represents the newspaper, argued that the criminal justice system is hardy enough to ensure a fair trial even if the proceedings are covered by the media.
The defense and prosecution can screen prospective jurors, he said, to make sure they will base their decisions on evidence presented in court, rather than what they learn in news reports.
McAllister opposed the request. In legal papers, he said the documents should not be made public because the lawyers will litigate the admissibility of evidence alluded to in the affidavits.
Mayne also opposed the request. In legal papers, he said he could not say why the contents of the warrants would infringe upon Porter's right to a fair trial without revealing the contents of the documents.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.