BELFAST, Maine — They were described as courageous, as caring, as considerate, as good men.
These were some of the words friends and family used Monday morning at Waldo County Superior Court to talk about both the Jackson man who pleaded guilty to killing a Florida man last year and the man who died.
Daniel Porter, 25, of Jackson was sentenced at the end of the emotional hearing to 30 years in prison with all but 16 years suspended. He told the courtroom — and his victim’s widow — that he was ashamed of his choices to sell oxycodone to Mainers and to kill 31-year-old Jerry Perdomo of Orange City, Fla., with a semiautomatic rifle on Feb. 16, 2012. Porter told police he killed Perdomo over a drug-related debt, and that he believed his family was threatened.
Porter pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this month, but not guilty to the more serious charge of intentional or knowing murder.
“Mrs. Perdomo — I understand right now that you probably hate me, and that maybe my words will fall on deaf ears,” he said, speaking directly to Tonya Perdomo. “I think of it every night. I wake up with it every morning. It’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life. I’m beyond sorry for my role.”
Justice Robert Murray handed down the sentence in a courtroom packed with Porter’s family members and supporters as well as with some of Perdomo’s relatives and friends who had made the trip from Florida to be present during the hearing. Perdomo worked as a Seminole County firefighter and also was a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq.
After Porter serves his sentence, he will spend four years on probation, during which time he cannot use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs and cannot have contact with the victim’s family. He also must pay $11,694 in restitution to Perdomo’s family to pay for funeral expenses.
The slain Florida man’s mother, sisters, stepfather and widow gave long, heart-wrenching testimony Monday about the hole that was left in their lives when Porter killed Perdomo.
“My brother was a generous, caring man. He gave the tightest hugs and had the brightest smile I’ve ever seen,” Erica Perdomo, a well-dressed woman who wore a cross around her neck and who appeared to be in her 20s or early 30s, said. “My brother was disposed of like he was garbage in the woods, like he was nothing, like he mattered to nobody.”
Later, Porter’s family members and friends testified about their belief that he was driven to commit murder by circumstances that had spiraled out of his control — and that he deserved a short sentence that would give him a chance at living a good life after his release.
“He’s a good person,” his 16-year-old cousin Rochelle Porter said, adding that Porter is a role model to her. “He teaches me to follow my dreams and stand up for what I believe in … . What Daniel needs is not many years behind bars, but to be home, with family who loves him unconditionally.”
Murray, before handing down Porter’s sentence, said that he had read dozens of letters from Porter’s supporters and from Perdomo’s grieving family and friends.
“I can’t help but be struck by the inconsistencies of the descriptions of these two individuals and the events of that day,” Murray said. “It cannot be denied that the violent, lethal killing of Jerry Perdomo was the culmination of a series of threats and drug-dealing activities that went tragically bad.”
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said after the hearing that Porter and Perdomo met in Florida through a mutual friend. Porter told the court during the sentencing hearing that they met in May of 2011, and that “it didn’t take much convincing” for Perdomo to talk the Maine man into joining his illicit oxycodone business.
“I convinced myself we were able to get drugs to the user for substantially less,” Porter said. “That I thought like that at all — I am extremely ashamed.”
Porter was the Maine connection, and Zainea said during the hearing that he received packages of the drug mailed from Florida and found buyers in Maine while using oxycodone himself.
“In August 2011, somebody I introduced it to stole roughly $4,500,” Porter told the court. “I told [Perdomo] I wasn’t making any money and the stress was killing me. The debt was his this time. I wasn’t going to pay it.”
But in February 2012, Perdomo drove to Bangor in a rental car, telling his wife he was going to see a friend for a few days — though not Lisa Gould, the Bangor woman with whom he had been romantically involved, Zainea told the court earlier this month when she outlined the case the state would have presented if it had gone to trial. But he did visit Gould, and told her on the day he was killed that he was packing a gun to go collect a debt, according to Maine State Police Detective Brian Strout, who testified at Porter’s bail hearing last March at Waldo County Superior Court.
Porter’s then-fiancee, Cheyanne Nowak, met Perdomo at a Route 69 gas station and led him to the rural Jackson home where Porter was staying.
She then left the house to pick up her toddler while the two men were inside playing pool together, Zainea said. Porter told police that Perdomo had threatened to hurt him or his family if he didn’t pay off the debt. He told police that Perdomo offered to erase $500 from the debt if he could rape Nowak on the pool table.
“I know maybe you think I’m smug,” Porter told Tonya Perdomo on Monday. “Jerry was my friend for a good portion of a year … the argument we got into escalated so fast. It got out of hand so fast. I know that doesn’t ease your pain any, but it was an extreme situation. I believe it could very well have been Jerry talking to my family today.”
After Porter shot Perdomo in the side of the head, he wrapped his body in blue tarps and borrowed a friend’s truck to move it several miles into the woods near his grandmother’s home on Dahlia Farm Road in Newburgh, Zainea told the court earlier in April.
Nearly two weeks later, after a widespread search effort that included local police, wardens and firefighters from Florida, police found the body on a red sled off a woods path.
Meanwhile, Porter bought a car and jewelry for Nowak, and the two went on a trip to visit his mother in Connecticut. Some of Perdomo’s family members said that the “shopping spree” that Porter and Nowak embarked on seemed like a sign that he did not feel remorse about the killing.
“It is difficult for me to remember the details of those two horrible weeks,” Jerry Perdomo’s mother, Gladys Diaz, wrote in a letter that her husband read to the courtroom on Monday when she was too overcome by tears to do so herself. “It seems like a big, long nightmare. Where once was joy, smiles and happiness now is hatred, anger and pain.”
Tonya Perdomo said she grew up with Jerry Perdomo, who was her high school sweetheart, and she and their two young children miss him every day.
“My 11-year-old daughter cries for her dad,” she said, speaking directly to Porter. “She said that time does not heal … She was so innocent before, an innocent 10-year-old. Now, she no longer has innocence in her eyes.”
The daughter, who was not present, wrote a letter to her father that her mother read out loud.
“Dear Dad … I would do anything to talk to you and snuggle with you,” the girl wrote. “I can never tell you how much I love you. I want you to be my guardian angel.”
When it was time for Porter’s friends and family to talk about his good qualities and the impact the crime had on the surrounding community, many did not hesitate. At least three people described Porter as the kind of person who would “change a tire in a thunderstorm for anybody,” and others said he would give you the shirt off his back.
“He’s always been there for me. He’s always been there for anybody,” Porter’s friend Chelsea Henderson said. “I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think he made a bad choice.”
Tanya Hubbard, who taught him in senior English at Mount View High School, described him in his teenage years as a gentle, quiet person who “firmly believed in personal responsibility.”
“All I know was once drugs and alcohol take over a life really bad events can occur,” she said. “It is my true belief that Daniel Porter is a good and worthy man.”
Nowak did not speak in court, but Porter’s mother, Debra Porter, did. She said that her heart went out to Perdomo’s family.
“May you find strength as you move forward,” she told them, then turned to the judge. “Your honor, my son is a decent man who is also a victim here. Daniel was put into a horrible position on Feb. 16. A position that left him with absolutely no choice. I know this with every ounce of my being.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein argued for the judge to suspend all but 12 years of the sentence, in part because Perdomo was not an innocent bystander.
“He was a businessman up here, preying on Maine’s problems for his profit,” the attorney said. “All the people who love Mr. Perdomo may have a hard time accepting the facts … When you get involved in drug dealing, [violence] is a foreseeable result.”
Murray said that Porter’s relative youth, lack of a previous criminal record and eventual acceptance of criminal responsibility were all mitigating factors for his sentence. But there were aggravating factors, too, including his initial lack of remorse and the way he covered up the crime, the justice said.
“The impact of his crime on the victim’s family is palpable here today,” Murray said. “And something they will suffer with for the rest of their lives.”