|Criminal status||Currently incarcerated at |
Clinton Correctional Facility
|Criminal charge||Second degree murder, |
Second degree attempted murder
|Penalty||50 years to life imprisonment|
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Christopher Porco (born July 9, 1983) is an American man convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his father, Peter Porco, and second-degree attempted murder in the severe wounding and disfigurement of his mother, Joan Porco, in Bethlehem, New York. Joan Porco maintains her son's innocence.
On November 15, 2004, Peter Porco, a 52-year-old state Appellate Division court clerk, was found dead of massive head injuries in his home in Delmar, New York. His wife Joan Porco (née Balzano), a children's speech pathologist, was discovered lying in the couple's blood-drenched bed with severe head trauma; she survived with loss of one eye and part of her skull, and severe facial disfigurement.
An axe belonging to the family, which was used in the attack, was found in the couple's bedroom. Bethlehem Police soon focused their investigation on Christopher Porco, the younger of the couple's two sons, who was a student at the University of Rochester 230 miles away. Christopher Porco was at the University of Rochester when his parents were discovered. He later said he learned of the attack from a reporter. He returned to Delmar that evening.
In the months following the attack, Porco's attorney Terence Kindlon criticized investigators, saying they were focusing narrowly on Christopher Porco as a suspect.
In late November 2004, outgoing Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne convened a grand jury to hear testimony implicating Christopher Porco in the murder. Those who were reported to have testified in the closed-session hearing included Porco's friends from college, a university campus safety officer, and a former girlfriend. The grand jury would field more testimony before handing up an indictment against Christopher in November 2005, one year after the attacks.
Christopher Bowdish, a Bethlehem Police detective, stated that, as medical personnel attended to Joan Porco at her home, he took a moment to ask her whether she could identify her attacker. Bowdish said that when he asked Joan if a family member had done it, Joan used her head to indicate "yes". Bowdish has maintained that when he asked her whether it had been her older son Jonathan, a Naval officer stationed in South Carolina during the attack, she shook her head, indicating it was not. However she was said to have nodded her head up and down, indicating "yes", when he asked her whether Christopher was responsible. Joan Porco's alleged identification of her son Christopher may explain why Bethlehem Police pursued her son soon after the incident, rather than conducting a broader investigation of potential suspects. She also answered in similar ways to other separate questions. She was so seriously injured that Bowdish believed her statement might qualify as a dying declaration.
The murder gained greater attention in the Capital District as Joan Porco, emerging from a medically induced coma, maintained that Christopher had nothing to do with her husband's murder. During videotaped testimony submitted to the grand jury in December 2004, Joan testified about her family, but did not identify her son as an attacker. Nine months later, she wrote a letter for publication in the Albany Times Union about Christopher: "I implore the Bethlehem Police and the District Attorney's Office to leave my son alone, and to search for Peter's real killer or killers, so that he can rest in peace and my sons and I can live in safety."
Prior to the attack there had been tension between Christopher Porco and his parents about money, including over loans Christopher had taken out to pay his tuition and to finance a new Jeep Wrangler. Following the Fall 2003 semester, University of Rochester officials had forced Christopher Porco to withdraw because of poor grades. When he was readmitted the following year, he took out a loan for $31,000 to pay his expenses, forging his father's name as a cosignatory. Unbeknownst to his parents, Christopher was attempting to pay for his Fall 2004 tuition with it. Earlier in the fall, he had told his parents he had been readmitted to the University of Rochester after the school determined a professor had misplaced his final exam from the previous fall semester, and in compensation that their son's tuition would be covered by the college.
Two weeks before his murder, Peter had confronted his son about his dishonesty in an email: "Did you forge my signature as a co-signer? ... What the hell are you doing? You should have called me to discuss it ... I'm calling Citibank this morning to find out what you have done and am going to tell them I'm not to be on it as a co-signer."
The following day, Peter Porco was notified that Christopher had also obtained a line of credit from Citibank to finance the Jeep Wrangler, again using his father's name as a cosignatory. Peter once again wrote to his son, who had not answered his parents' phone calls in weeks: "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 email concluded: "We may be disappointed with you, but your mother and I still love you and care about your future."
Christopher Porco told investigators that on the night of November 14 he had retired to a dormitory lounge to sleep, and awoke the following morning. The police theory was that he instead drove more than three hours to Albany in early hours of November 15 to attack his parents. A New York State Thruway toll collector outside Rochester said a yellow Wrangler with large tires passed through his station at about 10:45 p.m. on November 14, and a collector in Albany recalled the "excessive speed" of a yellow Wrangler approaching the toll plaza shortly before 2 a.m. on November 15.
Four security cameras at the University of Rochester recorded of a yellow Jeep Wrangler like Porco's leaving the campus at 10:30 p.m. on November 14 and returning at 8:30 a.m. on November 15, this being the period during which prosecutors claim the Porcos were attacked.
Sociopathy or psychopathy
Much attention has been focused on the personality of Christopher Porco. Police contended that his pattern of behavior is consistent with a diagnosis of psychopathy or sociopathy, two similar though not identical disorders characterized by traits such as egomania, pathological deception, scamming and defrauding others, and lack of conscience or remorse. For example, Porco lied to obtain both a car and tuition payments. Michele McKay, a law clerk who worked with Peter Porco, said he had described his youngest son as a sociopath. Several Albany-area psychologists and mental health professors have stated to the Times Union that Porco's behavior was consistent with that of a sociopath. In particular, they focused on a consistent pattern of lies Porco told to convince acquaintances that he was from a wealthy and influential family.
Additionally, Professor Frank Perri has argued that police interviews with Christopher Porco were seriously flawed because police questioning procedures seemingly failed to account for Porco's probable psychopathy. Psychopaths have unusual emotional responses and feel no remorse for their misdeeds, so standard police interview tactics are useless, as in the Porco case, where police failed to obtain any valuable information during questioning. According to Perri, police should study the Porco case to more productively interview potentially psychopathic suspects by using a non-confrontational approach rather than appealing to emotions. For example, Perri suggests that the common goal of seeking a confession is misguided with a possible psychopath and that police should instead allow the subject to speak at length to elicit statements that can later be contradicted by external evidence: "...by getting the psychopath to talk a trail of statements that are contradictory to undisputed facts coupled with a lack of proper emotional affect produce a powerful image of deception and lack credibility at trial."
During the course of their investigation, authorities determined that Porco had a history of anti-social behavior that included burglarizing his parents' home. In 2005, Bethlehem Police detectives travelled to San Diego, California, to retrieve a laptop computer that Christopher Porco had stolen from his parents in a break-in on July 21, 2003, while he was home from college. Porco had sold the laptop on eBay. Eight months earlier, on November 28, 2002, police contend Christopher also staged a burglary at his parents' home in which he took a Macintosh laptop computer and a Dell laptop computer. A camera reported missing from the burglary was recovered from the couple's front yard. One month before the attack, both Christopher and Jonathan Porco had their eBay accounts frozen because they shared the same Delmar address. Christopher had not sent several customers the items they had paid for from his account. During their investigation prosecutors discovered that Christopher posed as his own brother, sending emails to the customers explaining that his brother had died and was unable to deliver on the items.
While away on a trip to England in March 2004, Christopher received an email from Joan Porco's account admonishing him for failing classes at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY. In the message, Joan and Peter complained to their son, "You just left and (we) can't believe (our) eyes as I look at your interim grade report. You know what they say, 'Three strikes and you're out.' Explain yourself." The email's subject header was "Failing Grades-You did it again!" Several days later, Christopher replied in a message to his father. Blaming the community college's office of registrar, he wrote, "[B]ut obviously they are incorrect...My lowest grade that I got on anything was a B on a physics test...Don't jump to conclusions, I'm fine." Porco earned readmission to the University of Rochester with a forged transcript from HVCC. Judge Berry refused to allow prosecutors to use the forged transcripts as evidence in their criminal case against Christopher Porco.
Defense attorney Terence Kindlon emphasized that the Bethlehem Police Department had no physical evidence linking Christopher Porco to the attack on his parents. No fingerprints were recovered from the fire ax found at the scene of the crime.
In statements to the press and criminal proceedings, Kindlon has suggested that the Bethlehem Police Department had made Christopher Porco's guilt a foregone conclusion. During his opening remarks to jurors on June 27, 2006, Kindlon described the Bethlehem Police as unfamiliar with a serious crime investigation, describing them as a department "that chases skateboarders away from the 7-11 ...This is not the FBI."
Kindlon's co-counsel and wife Laurie Shanks has also maintained that police overlooked the possibility that Peter Porco's death was the result of retaliation against his uncle Frank Porco, a captain in the Bonanno crime family in New York City. Frank Porco had served two years in prison for loansharking and extortion, although Shanks incorrectly told jurors that he had been indicted for his involvement in a murder. Shanks noted that Frank Porco's nickname with the mob was "The Fireman", which could have had something to do with the type of murder weapon found, a fire ax. He had served in the New York City Fire Department.
Trial and conviction
On August 2, 2006, the prosecution completed its case against Porco, and the defense's case, which was much briefer, began.
On the morning of August 10, 2006, the jury began deliberations. Later that day Porco was found guilty of second degree murder and attempted murder.
On December 12, 2006, Judge Jeffrey Berry sentenced Porco to 50 years to life on each count totaling a minimum of 50 years in prison. Judge Berry was quoted as saying, "I fear very much what happened in the early morning hours of November 15 is something that could happen again." Porco will be eligible for parole in December 2052.
- "Joan Porco". Times Union. 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
- "Detective testifies". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Timeline around murder includes text messaging, exit tolls". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "EZ-Pass, forged transcripts focus of testimony". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Jurors see video of Porco's Jeep leaving campus". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- Perri, Frank S. (2011). CASE STUDY: The Flawed Interview of a Psychopathic Killer: What Went Wrong? Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 8: 41–57 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/jip.128
- "Former neighbor who saw Jeep testifies; prosecution rests". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Jury delivers quick verdict; Porco mom absent". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Christopher Porco gets maximum sentence; Convicted killer speaks for the first time". spotlightnews.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Porco case is grist for TV movie drama". dailygazette.com. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- Christopher Porco Murder Trial special report at timesunion.com—Includes transcripts, biographies, photographs, and trial-related video.
- Porco Trial stories, photos, videos and documents from Spotlight Newspapers coverage.
- "Memory of Murder"-- A 48 Hours Mystery
- Porco Trial Archive on CBS6Albany.com—Archived Video from CBS 6's coverage of the Porco Trial
- TruTV Crime Library Article on the Porco case, archived.