HICKMAN, California (AP) — Friends of an elderly millionaire who was killed by a local pastor sensed something was wrong long before his death.
The agricultural museum that the Rev. Howard Douglas Porter had promised to establish using the old man’s life savings wasn’t being built, so one day Les Orr drove 85-year-old Frank Craig to the site. There, behind Hickman Community Church, where Porter was the pastor, stood nothing but an empty grass lot.
“As soon as he saw there was no foundation, that nothing had been done at all, he started vomiting,” Orr said, recalling the feelings of betrayal that overwhelmed Craig, his friend of 60 years. “Then he said, `Take me home.”‘
Porter, 57, was convicted Monday of first-degree murder, embezzlement, elder abuse and attempted murder. By the time the verdict was read, the once-lively town debate of whether Porter was to blame for Craig’s death had become one-sided, and most people, residents said, seemed resigned to a guilty verdict.
Prosecutors say Porter had staged two car wrecks — one in 2002 that left Craig unable to walk and the other in 2004 that killed him — to cover up that he was stealing money from the man he had befriended.
Hickman resident Mary Horn said what once was a contentious topic was over for her after prosecutor John Mayne outlined Porter’s questionable spending of Craig’s $1.1 million fortune and revealed that in the first wreck the passenger-side air bag had been disabled. Mayne said part of the sum Porter stole from Craig financed a housing compound for his extended family in nearby LaGrange.
The case put on by defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who argued that Porter was merely a bad driver who took monetary gifts and loans from Craig, did not sway Horn or her friends.