SALEM – The Oregon Board of Parole rescinded its decision to release convicted cop-killer Sidney Dean Porter just three days before he was due to walk out of the Oregon State Penitentiary, a free man.
Porter’s release had been set for Friday, June 7, and he planned to move to a Monument-area ranch owned by family members. On June 4, the Parole Board revoked that date and said it would reopen his hearing in September.
Just as the plan to release him had triggered an outcry in the state’s law enforcement community, the reversal upset old friends who had hoped to see Porter get out of prison.
“Everybody needs a chance,” said Ingo Wedde, a Prairie City business owner and longtime friend who said he’s still ready to ride motorcycles with Porter whenever he gets released. But he worries about how the delay is affecting Porter, whom he recalls as a high school sports hero and a sweet guy.
“You know what the last six months had to be like for him – It’s been a year every day,” Wedde said.
Porter was sentenced to life in prison in 1992 for bludgeoning John Day Police Officer Frank Ward to death. Ward had gone to Porter’s Brent Street home in response to a domestic assault report.
The Parole Board reviewed Porter’s status in three hearings over the past year, first determining that he was eligible for parole and finally setting his release date.
However, the Parole Board revoked the date last week after consultation with the governor’s office, announcing it would reopen the exit interview hearing sometime in September. The reversal came after weeks of protest from law enforcement officials familiar with the case, and an emotionally charged informational hearing held by the Oregon House Judiciary Committee.
At that session, Ward’s brother and others pressed for authorities to keep Porter in prison, saying 20 years was not enough to pay the violent murder of a police officer in the line of duty. Others, including police officers who responded to the scene that night, testified about the brutal nature of Ward’s injuries and protested Porter’s assertion that the officer simply died after hitting his head on a woodstove.
Last week, Parole Board executive director Jay Scroggin declined to comment on the board’s reasons for rescinding the date, but he said additional information will be taken in testimony at the September hearing. The information presented at the board’s last hearing, in February, will remain on the record, he said.
In September, he said, the board could reaffirm its decision to release Porter or defer the release and establish a new projected release date, ranging from two to 10 years out. If there is a deferral, the board would hold a new exit interview hearing six months before the release.
The reopening gives Grant County District Attorney Ryan Joslin a new opportunity to testify about the case. Joslin came under fire when notices about the proceedings went astray in his office, and he failed to testify.
Joslin said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to testify in September hearing and will be gathering information from others who have an interest in the outcome.
He was pleased to hear the board had changed its mind on the release date.
“It was the right decision,” he said.
Scroggin said the district attorney will be able to make a statement and present evidence, such as police and autopsy reports. Those reports were not available at the earlier Parole Board proceedings, a lapse that drew criticism from lawmakers and law enforcement.
Exit interview hearings provide 15 minutes each for statements from the district attorney, a victim or representative, and a supporter of the inmate. Scroggin said the board also could take statements from “relevant witnesses,” but those are typically cleared with the board by the district attorney in advance of the hearing.
Meanwhile, supporters like Wedde say they don’t believe Porter will reoffend. They say alcohol fueled his rage that night, and Porter knows he needs to go straight after prison.
“He knows his conditions,” Wedde said. “He’s known them for 22 years.”
He and other Porter backers have questioned the veracity of police accounts from the night. He said the blood at the scene is what could result from Ward falling and striking an Earth Stove – as Porter has told the Parole Board in describing Ward’s death.
However, police say Porter’s claims, echoed by his supporters, aren’t supported by the evidence found at the scene or the autopsy report, which showed multiple injuries to Ward’s face and head.
In a sworn affidavit dated April 8, 1992, an investigating Oregon State Police officer reported finding so much blood at the scene that it could not reasonably be investigated in the usual amount of time.
“ I do not believe the five days will necessarily be enough time to totally process and examine the scene, and therefore request that the warrant authorize the search to be completed within 10 days rather than five,” wrote OSP Sgt. Richard Tenderella.
Tenderella’s affidavit also recounts the scene in the early hours of April 8, 1992, when Ward went to the Brent Street home about 12:24 a.m. and began calling for backup within minutes. The affidavit describes a belligerent Porter confronting and resisting the police who came to assist Ward.
A uniformed jail officer, Charles C. London, was the first to arrive; he reported that Porter approached him outside and blocked his way to the door, repeatedly demanding that the officer get him a glass of water.
The affidavit quotes London trying to get past Porter – “I’m sorry I need to check on the other officer” – and then continues, “Mr. Porter then said, ‘If you don’t get me a glass of water, you’re going to be just like that a**hole on the floor.’”
Two other officers – Richard Tirico and Steve McGuire – arrived about that time and London was able to enter the house, where he found Ward face down on the floor “with a large pool of blood around his head.”
The affidavit says Porter was apprehended only after police repeatedly ordered him to the ground and finally sprayed him with Cap Stun. It also says Tenderella and Glenn Palmer, then a John Day officer, found Porter’s hands and clothing were covered with blood and his socks were blood-soaked. Tenderella said blood was smeared and spattered on the carpet, walls, furnishings and at least two sticks of firewood.
Ward was taken to Blue Mountain Hospital, where he died without regaining consciousness less than two hours later. He was reported to have a skull fracture, multiple cuts and abrasions, blackened eyes, and swelling of the lips, mouth, forehead “and esssentially the entire face,” the affidavit said.
The autopsy reported the cause of death as head injuries and characterized it as a homicide.