BELFAST, Maine — Police held Daniel Porter against his will — and without reading him his Miranda rights — one year ago when the Jackson man was questioned in the disappearance of a Florida firefighter, Porter’s defense attorney said Tuesday in Waldo County Superior Court.
Porter, 25, is accused of killing firefighter Jerry Perdomo, 31, last February in a drug-related shooting. Justice Robert Murray presided over a hearing this week on the defense attorney’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during questioning of his client by police in both Connecticut and Maine. The hearing will continue Wednesday.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor said he doesn’t expect a ruling from the judge until sometime in March. Porter’s trial on a charge of intentional or knowing murder is scheduled to begin on April 22, according to court officials. He is being held without bail at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.
“Just because you tell someone they’re free to leave doesn’t mean they’re not in custody,” the attorney said after the hearing was adjourned for the day. “We’re challenging whether there’s been compliance with the Miranda process,” which guarantees an individual the right to remain silent or request an attorney.
The court heard testimony from several Connecticut and Maine police detectives as Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea and Silverstein grappled to show that Porter either was or wasn’t properly questioned in the days before his arrest.
According to testimony Tuesday from authorities involved, the defendant told them that he had traveled to Connecticut to visit his mother and grandmother for the last time as a free man, that he had entered into business dealings with Perdomo to sell OxyContin illicitly in Maine, and that he had owed the Florida man $3,000.
It was that debt that sparked the argument between the two men that ended with Perdomo’s death, police stated in court documents filed last year in connection with Porter’s arrest.
Police have said that Porter shot Perdomo in the side of the head with a semiautomatic rifle on Feb. 16 at a rented home in Jackson after the two men had a dispute over money. Last March, Maine State Police Detective Brian Strout said in Porter’s bail hearing that Perdomo had been coming to Bangor once a month for nearly a year in order to illicitly transport and sell prescription drugs from Florida.
On the day he was killed, Perdomo packed a gun and two cellphones and told his girlfriend, Lisa Gould of Bangor, that he had to go collect a debt, according to Strout.
Two detectives from Connecticut told the court on Tuesday that when they found Porter and his girlfriend, Cheyanne Nowak, on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2012, at a Marriott Courtyard hotel in Orange, Conn., they were working with the information that he was sought by Bangor police in connection with a missing person case. They also had heard he was possibly armed with an assault rifle.
“We approached the car safely, with our weapons drawn, and asked them to get out of the car,” Detective Tony Vitti of the Milford Police Department said in court Tuesday. “We assisted them out of the vehicle. They were pulled out of the car and brought to the ground.”
Police patted down Porter and Nowak, searching for weapons. While they were doing so, Porter said, “You got me. You got me,” according to Vitti.
“Had you asked Mr. Porter any questions at this point?” Zainea asked the detective, who said they hadn’t.
Police did not arrest Porter, but did ask him if he would speak to them. He agreed, Vitti said, and so began a roughly seven-hour period of time when Porter was almost continuously in police company in a hotel room while waiting for detectives to arrive from Maine. Nowak was with different police officers, kept separate from Porter in the room next door. Police said they took Porter’s cell phone away from him for fear that he could destroy evidence, if there was any evidence stored on the phone — but he still was not taken into custody, nor were the conversations in the hotel room recorded.
“He questioned the fact that he could really go. I said he was free to leave at any time,” Vitti said.
When asked to describe the Jackson man’s demeanor during the long wait, Vitti said that the best word to use was “carefree.”
“Very laid back,” he said. “He was just relaxed. A carefree type of person.”
Vitti added that Porter drank a couple of beers and a shot of whiskey during their stay together in the hotel room.
“He said he needed to drink it as it might be the last beer he’d have for a very long time,” the detective said.
Silverstein disagreed that his client was as carefree — and free — as the detectives said.
“Our theory is that he was removed from his car at gunpoint. He was handcuffed. He stayed with officers for eight-plus hours. He was monitored every moment. He had no access to a car, a phone, and they weren’t allowing him ready access to Cheyanne,” the attorney told the BDN after the hearing.
During the hearing, police also discussed a series of informal interviews with Porter that took place in Maine before his arrest last February, the day before officials found Perdomo’s body in the woods near Porter’s grandmother’s home on Dahlia Farm Road in Newburgh.
In one of the conversations, held in the company of Porter’s father at the residence in Jackson, Daniel Porter drank alcohol until he vomited into a trash can, according to Strout. The conversation with police continued for perhaps 45 minutes, Strout told the court Tuesday, until Porter put his head on the table and fell asleep.
“There were times when we laughed and we cried,” Strout said of the four-hour-long conversation.
Silverstein said after the hearing that he also is concerned that police may have passively allowed his client to drink alcohol while talking to them before he was charged and read his rights.
“Under Maine law, a statement has to be voluntary,” he said.
But during the hearing, responding to a question from the prosecutor, at least one officer said Porter did not appear to be intoxicated.
According to a written statement by Perdomo’s stepsister, Damaris Lerch, which was shared Tuesday, it is “heartbreaking and emotionally draining to have to relive the events that led to his death and to remember the two long weeks it took to find Jerry and bring him home.”
She wrote that Perdomo’s children still suffer every day without their father.
“No one deserves to be killed,” she said. “No family deserves to have such a huge part of them taken away.”