BELFAST, Maine — As accused murderer Daniel Porter was hustled through the Waldo County Superior Courthouse on Friday morning, a large crowd of his family and friends shouted out their support.
“We love you, Daniel,” many among the 50 or so people called to him in unison.
Porter, 24, of Jackson has been charged with murder in the death of Florida firefighter Jerry Perdomo.
After Porter’s court appearance Friday, the state medical examiner’s office released information that Perdomo was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. It was a homicide, according to an official who said the autopsy was concluded that afternoon.
During his first court appearance, Porter listened as Justice Robert Murray read the charge against him and explained that the maximum sentence he faces for murder is life in prison. If Porter is convicted, he will face a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.
Murray asked if Porter understood the charge against him.
“Trust me, I understand, your honor,” Porter said in a clear, confident voice.
Porter wore a bulletproof vest over his orange jumpsuit, and at the end of the brief hearing he turned back to look at all the people jamming into the gallery.
“Love you guys,” he said to them. “I don’t want to see a bunch of sad faces.”
Porter, who has retained Bangor defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein, did not enter a plea during his first appearance. He has been held at Waldo County Jail without bail since his arrest on Feb. 28 at the house in Jackson where police said he killed 31-year-old Perdomo on Feb. 16 in a drug-related crime. Porter told police that he owed Perdomo $3,000 and that Perdomo had threatened him and his family.
Police have confirmed they are investigating allegations that diverted prescription pills are part of the case. Perdomo, of Orange City, Fla., was a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Seminole County Fire Department.
Justice Murray scheduled a hearing for Porter at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 8, to determine whether he will set bail. State Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said after the hearing that the prosecution will try to deny Porter bail.
“The state will continue to establish evidence to keep him in jail,” she said.
But Porter’s family members, some of whom were crying and many of whom were vocally supportive, said outside the courthouse that it’s not fair that he is facing a murder trial.
“I think it’s a shame that someone in a uniform can hide behind that uniform and prey on our young,” said Brian Ginn of Knox, a longtime friend of the Porter family. “It’s kind of a shock to the community. He’s a good, clean kid. I don’t know how he got mixed up with this.”
Ginn’s son Brett Ginn of Jackson wore a T-shirt that read “Don’t [expletive] with family,” and told the reporters gathered outside that Porter is a “good kid.”
“I know Dan,” Brett Ginn said. “He was faced with a difficult situation … he does not deserve to be tried for murder. Self-defense is not a crime.”
Silverstein said the facts are still unfolding in this case.
“There’s much to learn,” he told reporters.
He said Perdomo last was seen on Feb. 16 by a woman in Bangor.
“He was armed with a handgun,” Silverstein said. “There’s a history of Mr. Perdomo coming up here, engaging in threatening communications with Mr. Porter.”
According to the affidavit filed in court on Wednesday, Porter and Perdomo had complained to the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office about each other in early January. Perdomo told police that “he observed Porter with a machine gun and that Porter threatened to shoot him and put him through a wood chipper. Porter stated that Perdomo threatened to cut his hands off and kill him.”
The affidavit states that police arrested Porter on Wednesday after finding blood splatter evidence and skull fragments in the Jackson home rented by Porter’s father. Porter reportedly told police that Perdomo was dead, but refused to tell them where to find the body. It was found the next day by a Maine game warden and his dog about half a mile from Dahlia Farm Road in Newburgh on property that is owned by relatives of Porter.
According to Silverstein, Porter chose to wear the bulletproof vest on Friday in part because there have been threatening messages posted on the Internet. Some have been aimed at Porter’s girlfriend, 25-year-old Cheyanne Nowak of Brooks, Silverstein said.
It did not appear that Nowak came to court to support Porter.
Silverstein said she has consulted with an attorney but has not been charged with anything in connection with Perdomo’s death.
He said his client is a longtime resident of Waldo County who has a lot of support here, and despite his confident, and at times even cavalier demeanor in and out of the courthouse, he is depressed, despondent and upset over what happened.
“Mr. Porter is very, very distraught over the turn of events,” Silverstein said, adding that his client believed he was out of choices before turning to deadly force. “I think he was buoyed, if you will, by the presence of his family.
When asked why Porter hid Perdomo’s body, Silverstein replied, “One of the things that’s common in the folks I represent is that everybody reacts differently during these kinds of events.”
He said all appearances suggest that both Porter and Perdomo had been involved with drugs.
After Porter’s supporters left the courthouse, Chris Lerch, Perdomo’s brother-in-law from Florida, made a brief statement.
“It’s a difficult day,” he said.
Perdomo’s two children, a 10-year-old girl and a toddler, were struggling with their father’s loss, he said.
Lerch said he hoped Maine officials would be able to prosecute Porter to the fullest extent of the law. He also said he understands why Porter’s family and friends would come to the courthouse, but he took exception to the idea, suggested by some of the Jackson man’s supporters, that Perdomo shouldn’t have come to Maine in the first place.
“Any of us have any right to go anywhere in this country we want to go,” Lerch said. “Jerry’s gone now. We’re paying the ultimate price for him being [in Maine]. We love Jerry so much. The way we see Jerry is as a father, a husband, a son.”