CANYON CITY – After a hearing last week in Salem, Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter is cautiously optimistic that convicted cop-killer Sidney Dean Porter will stay in prison at least a few more years.
The Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision is expected is expected to issue its decision soon.
Porter, 55, has been in prison for 23 years for the April 1992 bludgeoning death of John Day Police Officer Frank Ward.
The Jan. 27 hearing before a panel of parole board members was Porter’s second bid for freedom. In 2013, the board set a release date for that summer but, after a public uproar across the state, revisited the issue and decided to hold him for two more years.
This time, the board can decide to release Porter as soon as this summer or extend his incarceration another two to 10 years.
Carpenter said the board members were attentive throughout the daylong hearing, and questioned Porter for nearly three hours on details from his testimony.
Porter recounted his version of the events that night, when he was drinking with friends and got into an alcohol-fueled fight with his wife. A neighbor called police to report a domestic disturbance and Ward was dispatched.
Porter contends he didn’t recognize Ward was a police officer, and that he fought with Ward out of fear for his life and his family.
Carpenter noted the evidence showed that Ward was in uniform when he went to the Porter home and that he clearly identified himself as a police officer – at one point, loud enough that a neighbor across the road heard him clearly.
Ward, hearing a woman’s screams, entered the home and the two men scuffled. Porter says Ward repeatedly pepper-sprayed him; they fell against the wood stove and some firewood, the officer fatally breaking his neck.
Carpenter said the panel noted changes in his story from the previous hearing – including the assertion about a broken neck – and questioned him carefully. He also scoffed at the idea of Porter as family protector.
“He’s the only one there hurting his family, attacking them, and all of a sudden he’s protecting them?” Carpenter said.
In his testimony, Carpenter presented photographs and documents including autopsy material. He said the evidence clearly showed that Ward died from being struck in the head with a chunk of firewood.
Carpenter said Porter’s memories of the night, and his memory lapses, are convenient for him.
“He remembers those facts that are beneficial to him in stark detail, but when it doesn’t benefit him, all of a sudden, he can’t recall,” Carpenter said.
He said that strategy was noted in Porter’s previous hearing, and also in his psychological review.
The parole panel also heard testimony from the victim’s brother, Ben Ward, and widow, Debra Ward, who talked about the stark loss felt by the family.
Debra Ward also recalled feeling some comfort when she thought Porter would be in prison for life. Now, she said the release hearings are taking a painful toll, and she urged the board not only to keep Porter in prison, but to schedule any new hearings farther apart than two years.
In the original case, Porter faced a possible death sentence for aggravated murder. However, he entered an Alford guilty plea – where the defendant acknowledges likely conviction without admitting to the crime – and he was sentenced instead to life without opportunity for parole for at least 30 years.
A ruling in an unrelated case subsequently changed the rules and shortened the period for a parole review in certain cases, including Porter’s.
Supporters of Porter attended the hearing. If released, Porter plans to move to the family ranch near Monument.
Carpenter said it’s unlikely that the parole board will order Porter back to prison for 10 years, but he hopes it is longer than two years. He also lauded his staff for the work they did in preparation for the hearing.