BELFAST, Maine — A Mount View High School English teacher who taught accused murderer Daniel Porter said Thursday that he was one of the nicest teens she had ever known.
“He was genuine. He was good to people,” said Tanya Hubbard, adding that the murder charge levied against her former student has come as a big shock. “He must have just gotten into a situation or a place that went out of control. I would never, ever have expected to see him on the news for this thing.”
Porter, 24, who grew up in the rural Waldo County town of Jackson, has been making headlines all over the country in the last few days in the death of Florida firefighter Jerry Perdomo.
A Maine game warden and his dog found the body of Perdomo, 31, Wednesday morning in the woods of Newburgh on property owned by Porter’s relatives. Maine State Police had charged Porter the previous afternoon with murder in the Orange City man’s death, which officials have said is drug-related.
According to the affidavit which supported Porter’s arrest, he owed Perdomo $3,000.
During the two-week search for Perdomo, Porter and his girlfriend, Cheyanne Nowak, 25, of Brooks, initially had both been identified as “persons of interest” by police. Police caught up with the couple in Connecticut. Porter told a detective that he had wanted to visit his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother there because it might be the last time he might see them as a free man, according to the police affidavit.
Hubbard said that while she hadn’t been in touch with Porter or Nowak since they both graduated from the high school in Thorndike, she did hazard a guess as to how the kind young man and “bubbly, motivated” young woman she knew got caught up in trouble.
Nowak has not been charged with any crime in relation to Perdomo’s murder.
“The only thing I think must have happened — and I don’t know — is when more dangerous drugs enter the picture, it must completely change your personality,” Hubbard said.
Police in both Maine and Florida are investigating the drug angle of the case. According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, local law enforcement agents there are looking into allegations that the slain Seminole County firefighter was involved with drugs.
Perdomo said he took prescription pills after a knee injury and he once counseled fellow Marines who were addicted to painkillers, according to a deposition he gave in a 2008 auto negligence lawsuit.
Perdomo said in the deposition that he was injured while serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Kuwait and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A spokeswoman with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Thursday that authorities in Florida are investigating possible drug trafficking in Central Florida in connection with the case.
“We’re aware of the accounts that drugs might have been involved in this case, and we will look into this and work with the Maine State Police as needed,” Heather Smith said in a statement.
Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Supervisor James Pease told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that Florida is a big source state for prescription drugs that are sold illegally in Maine.
“They have a lot of pain management clinics that are definitely spread out on every corner,” he said. “We find that people are going from pain clinic to pain clinic and buying large amounts of pills.”
Those pills might legally cost $50 to $100 for a 100-pill prescription. But when the pills are smuggled to Maine through the mail, UPS or a personal delivery, they can be sold for $40 or $45 each.
In September, a Florida couple was sentenced to four years and three months in prison for mailing oxycodone wrapped as presents to Waldo County post office boxes.
“A lot of people have that addiction to the opiates,” Pease said. “It’s very easy to get. And if you get a legitimate prescription, it’s a moneymaker.”
He said that illegal prescription drug sales and use is a problem in Waldo County as well as throughout the state.
“It’s a huge problem,” he said.
Cynthia Ludden, a selectman in the town of Jackson, said Thursday that she did not want to talk about the murder or about any illegal prescription drug activity in the county. She did say that the “Porter boys” — Daniel Porter’s family members — are good guys who “play hard.”
“These are the type of guys that if it’s pouring rain and you need to stop and change a tire, they will help,” she said.
Porter’s retained defense attorney is Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor. Silverstein said Thursday that his client will be informed of the charge against him at 9 a.m. Friday at Waldo County Superior Court after Thursday’s snowstorm delayed Porter’s initial court appearance.
Porter has been held without bail at the Waldo County Jail in Belfast.
Silverstein did not hesitate to begin his defense of Porter, who in January had told a Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office deputy that Perdomo had threatened to “cut off his hands and kill him” and had thrown rocks through the window of his Newburgh home, according to the police affidavit.
But the alleged threats weren’t one-sided. Perdomo told police in January that Porter had threatened to shoot him and put him through a wood chipper and that he had seen Porter with a machine gun, according to the same affidavit released on Wednesday.
“There’s no legitimate reason for Mr. Perdomo to have been making the trips up here with the frequency he did, outside of the context of untoward conduct,” Silverstein said. “He wasn’t up here making house calls for legitimate reasons. He was wrapped up in very nefarious conduct. The other thing that seems rather clear is he engaged in threatening conduct and threatening communications with my client.”
The attorney said that Perdomo had “brought trouble” to Porter.
“This was not an unprovoked incident,” Silverstein said. “I think more facts will come out. What seems rather clear is that Mr. Perdomo has been leading a double life of sorts.”
Troy Todak, a Seminole County firefighter who was in Maine to help look for his missing colleague, said earlier this week that Perdomo was a “stand-up guy.”
“He’s a great kid. A good dad,” a distraught Todak said. “Every time I talked to him, he’d talk about his kids.”
Hubbard, Porter’s former teacher, also sounded sad when she discussed the crime. She described her former student as a sweet, laid-back teenager who liked to learn, did his work and was a “complete home boy.”
“I don’t think Dan’s ever been out of the state of Maine,” she said.
The teacher has never had one of her former students be accused of murder.
“I was completely blindsided by this one. I feel very badly. Honest to God, it breaks my heart,” Hubbard said. “I adore my kids. This makes me truly, truly ill.”