Amid the Carnage, a Mother's Love

ByEAMON McNIFF, CHRIS CUOMO and the ABC Law & Justice Unit

July 12, 2006 — -- As Joan Porco, her skull split open by repeated blows from an ax, lay bleeding in her bed with medics frantically working to save her life, she allegedly indicated to police that the person responsible for the brutal attack that would put her in a coma and leave her husband dead was the couple's son Christopher.

But now that the young man's trial is under way in an Orange County, N.Y., courthouse, Joan Porco is standing by him, claiming he is innocent, even though she said that since coming out of a three-week coma she has no memory of what happened on that morning in November 2004.

Christopher Porco, 22, is accused of attacking his parents with an ax as they slept in their home in 2004. He allegedly killed his father and put his mother into a coma in what appears to have been the drastic act of a desperate young man in deep financial difficulty.

With the prosecution painting Porco as a cold-blooded sociopath who attacked his parents after they had caught him in a web of lies, Joan Porco has sat behind her son throughout the trial, hugging him before and after each session, and defending him every inch of the way.

Peter and Joan Porco, and their two sons Christopher and Jonathan, lived on a modest, oak-shaded suburban street in the town of Bethlehem, N.Y., a couple of blocks from the local high school. Bethlehem is a town where teen drinking is the biggest problem and even a burglary is a rare occurrence.

So when Peter Porco, a clerk in the Albany County courthouse, failed to show up for a trial on Nov. 15, 2004, court police, at the request of co-workers, went to the Porco residence to check on him.

According to pretrial testimony and interviews, police found Peter Porco immediately upon entering the house, lying in a pool of blood, nearly beheaded.

Police reports and court records describe a macabre scene. It appeared as if the gravely wounded Peter Porco had stumbled out of bed after being attacked, spraying blood across walls and on doorways. It appeared that he tried to get dressed and make breakfast, leaving a trail of blood throughout the house before he collapsed.

According to testimony, police and paramedics believed that Peter was operating on adrenaline, and was most likely completely unaware of what had just happened to him and his wife, or the condition of his body.

Police found a check Peter had made out to his son Christopher on top of knocked over dishes in the kitchen, covered in Peter's blood, as were all the appliances, countertops, walls and floor of the kitchen.

"There is blood on the floor. He looks to his right. To his right are the stairs that lead to the second floor of the residence where the bedrooms are," Assistant District Attorney Michael McDermott said, describing what the first arriving officer saw at the Porco house.

"And at the base of those stairs is the dead body of Peter Porco. Peter Porco is laying on the landing to the stairway going upstairs. His face is pointed up the stairs. His legs are dangling off the end of the landing. He's covered in blood, saturated in blood, obviously suffered tremendous catastrophic injuries," McDermott said.

The police and paramedics rushed upstairs and found Joan, lying in bed, her face disfigured and bloody. Police were amazed she was still breathing. Next to her, under the covers, was what police determined was the murder weapon, a firefighter's ax.

"When they enter the master bedroom, ladies and gentlemen, and you will see pictures of this, they see a sight of incredible horror, of incredible carnage," McDermott said to the jury during his opening statement.

"There is blood all over the master bed. Just covered, saturated. There is blood on the walls behind the bed. And laying at the foot of the bed is a large ax, large bloody ax left at the foot of the bed. Laying across the bed is the body of Joan Porco," he said.

During a pretrial hearing, Albany County paramedic Kevin Robert told the court that he found Joan Porco on her back, left eye missing, jaw crushed, teeth missing, and head fractured in several spots from repeated blows from the ax.

According to Robert's testimony, as he worked to save Joan's life, Bethlehem detective Christopher Bowdish arrived in the room and began to try to question Joan.

When questioned by police and paramedics, Joan appeared to nod affirmatively to repeated questions whether her son Christopher was the attacker, the detective and paramedic testified.

Bowdish said in his pretrial testimony that in the back of his mind he planned to ask Joan if one of her sons was responsible. He said he asked her five questions, starting with whether she could hear him, to which Bowdish said she nodded yes.

He next asked her if a family member was responsible, to which he testified that she again nodded yes. Next he asked if it was her oldest son, Jonathan, a naval officer stationed out of state, who had done it, and she nodded no, he testified.

Bowdish said he next asked if it was Christopher, to which Joan nodded yes. Bowdish said he asked Joan the same question again, and she again nodded yes.

Based on Joan's responses, Christopher was identified as the No. 1 suspect. Joan was transported to the hospital, where she reportedly slipped into a coma and underwent several operations on her face and skull.

According to court documents, once the Bethlehem police began looking into Christopher Porco's past as a student at the University of Rochester, a darker image of the suburban youth began to emerge.

There are also reports from classmates at Rochester that Porco had become an increasingly heavy drinker, had reportedly threatened to kill a female classmate, and had to be pulled off another person during a fight at a party when it seemed Porco would not stop choking him.

Two years before the murder, the Porco's home was burglarized while Christopher was home from college. Joan Porco's laptop computer was one of several items taken. That laptop turned up last April, when police traced its sale to a man in San Diego, who told them he had purchased it on eBay from Christopher Porco.

That was one of several reported break-ins at the Porco residence while Christopher was a student at Rochester.

In June 2003, a veterinary clinic where Christopher Porco worked was burglarized, and the items reported stolen included a cell phone, camera and computers. Some of those items, including the cell phone, were uncovered in a safe in his room by detectives after the murder.

Aside from these burglaries, Porco faced a slew of problems at college, police said. According to pretrial testimony and court documents, he'd allegedly portrayed himself to fellow schoolmates as a jet-setting millionaire with oceanfront homes. But authorities believe Porco had become deeply involved in Internet gambling and lavish spending, and had racked up more than $40,000 in debt.

Porco reportedly began failing his classes, and in the fall of 2003 was expelled for poor academic performance. In January 2004, he registered at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. However, Porco's grades apparently did not improve, and he did not complete any of his classes for that semester.

In August 2004, Porco forged a transcript from the community college showing that he had received all A's and B's, and reapplied to the University of Rochester.

To pay his tuition, Porco told his parents that he needed only a co-signed $2,000 loan. But after obtaining his father's relevant personal and tax information, Christopher Porco secured a $31,000 loan from Citibank.

In November 2004, Peter Porco ran a credit check and discovered the $31,000 loan, as well as a $16,450 loan the son had forged in his father's name to purchase a yellow Jeep Wrangler in Florida. Police believe this was a deadly discovery for the unsuspecting father.

The day after discovering the loan forgeries, Peter wrote an e-mail to his son, threatening legal action against him.

"I want you to know that if you abuse my credit again, I will be forced to file forgery affidavits in order to disclaim liability and that applies to the Citibank college loan if you attempt to reactivate it or use my credit to obtain any other loan," the e-mail, quoted in the Albany Times Union, stated.

Several days later, Joan Porco wrote to her son and questioned his mental state.

"Dad and I are very upset about your not communicating with us. We don't know if you are well or mentally stable," the letter, which also appeared in the Times Union, stated.

Seven days after that e-mail was sent, Peter and Joan Porco were beaten with an ax in their home.

"Porco was captured on a college surveillance camera as his yellow Jeep left campus late the night of the murder. A neighbor spotted a yellow Jeep in the couple's driveway about 4 a.m., which is around the time the police believe the attacks took place," according to court documents.

The day after the bloodshed, Christopher was found at school and alerted of the incident. At the hospital, he was approached by detectives and was taken to the Bethlehem Police Station to be questioned.

According to court records Porco, who would later claim to have asked for his family lawyer to be present, was interviewed for more than six hours by police, who also seized his Jeep.

Several days later, Porco retained the services of Albany lawyer Terrence L. Kindlon, who immediately began attacking the investigation and the tactics police had used during their interrogation of the young man.

Christopher Porco, during a routine checkup for his Jeep in February 2005, reportedly discovered that the police had placed, without a warrant, electronic monitoring devices under his car.

In December 2005, Joan Porco, badly disfigured and suffering from brain damage, gave a videotaped deposition, saying she had no memory of the attack and believed her son was innocent.

Joan went so far as to write letters to the Times Union, asking police to "go after the real killers." In addition to her letters, several anonymous letters were sent to the paper, allegedly from the murderer, boasting of the Porco attack as well as another unsolved murder in the town.

As the drama continued and captured area headlines, the police uncovered other bits of evidence they say pointed to Porco as the culprit. According to reports, Porco contends that the night of the attack he had passed out on a couch in his dormitory building, away from his room. However, the prosecution contends it has witnesses from school who will testify against that.

"Schoolmates will testify he was not asleep on a couch in a dormitory and was not seen on campus until nearly 8 a.m. the morning following the murder," documents state.

Prosecution records also state that police uncovered a Thruway ticket, which was determined to have mitochondrial DNA matching Porco's.

In November 2005, Porco was indicted for the murder and attempted murder of his father and mother, but through the help of his still-supportive family and friends, including the husband-and-wife owners of the veterinary clinic whose stolen items were allegedly found in Porco's possession, he posted $250,000 bail.

In a dramatic scene, in May 2006, Joan Porco walked arm in arm with Christopher to the pretrial hearings. During those hearings, Orange County Judge Jeffrey G. Berry disallowed testimony regarding the interrogation because Christopher Porco had been denied counsel. But he did allow Joan's alleged identification of her son as the attacker.

Kindlon had repeatedly requested a change of venue for the case, citing pretrial publicity in the Albany area, and on June 14 Berry granted that request, moving the trial to Orange County.

On June 27, the trial began in Goshen, where few residents had reportedly heard of the case.

In opening arguments, the prosecution painted Porco as a sociopath, determined to murder his parents because they unraveled his lies, and because Porco could receive enough inheritance to clear his mounting debts.

"Christopher Porco went home on the morning of November 14 to silence the voices that wanted to hold him accountable," McDermott said to the jury of eight women and four men during opening statements.

The prosecution is reportedly leaning heavily on Porco's past deceptions and alleged burglaries, as well as his mother's alleged indication that Porco was responsible. In the opening week of the case, the prosecution has also pointed to the family home's alarm logs, which reportedly indicate that the alarm was deactivated by someone who knew the code, and than smashed to cover up the deactivation.

Yet the case presents several obstacles to the prosecution. The barring of the interrogation tape, in which Christopher Porco reportedly showed an almost icy demeanor when discussing his parents' death only hours before, the lack of any blood stains in Porco's Jeep or fingerprints in the house, as well as the fact that the two lead detectives on the case, including Bowdish, have unexpectedly died over the past year.

The defense contends that Christopher Porco, now 22, was merely dealing with everyday growing pains and was not a killer.

"We don't dispute for a second that Peter Porco was killed in this brutal, probably sadistic fashion. And we don't dispute that his lovely, his beautiful wife, Joan, was horribly injured. We do, however, stand before you and say that our client, Chris Porco, is not guilty of this horrible crime," Kindlon said in his opening statement.

Kindlon also said in his opening remarks that whatever Joan Porco was saying after her attack, she could not possibly have been pointing out Christopher.

"I don't think Mr. McDermott told you quite how badly she was injured, but what you will learn when you listen to the testimony in this case is that she was so horribly injured that the first police officer who was there was able to look at her face and see her brain," Kindlon said.

"What opportunity would this woman, this good woman, have had under those circumstances to observe her assailant?" Kindlon asked the jury.

Kindlon also attacked the Bethlehem Police Department, saying it lacked the experience to properly investigate the murder.

"This is a police department that chases skateboarders away from the 7-11. This is not the FBI," Kindlon said, also pointing to the fact that no blood was found in Porco's Jeep.

In court documents and opening statements, Kindlon and the defense point to aspects of Peter Porco's work and family relationships as other possible motives for his murder.

"The defense has proffered a theory that the killing may have been retribution against a relative of Peter Porco's, Frank 'the Fireman' Porco, who served time in prison for organized crime activity. A fireman's ax owned by Peter Porco, and kept in the home, was the murder weapon," defense documents state.

Kindlon contends that the police should be looking elsewhere, including investigating people who may have been affected by decisions of the Albany County Court and were looking for revenge.