Preacher Found Guilty of Murder

By Tracie Cone
Associated Press

August 5, 2008

Killed farmer to cover embezzlement

MODESTO A rural California preacher was convicted Monday of murdering an 85-year-old farmer after he stole more than $1 million from the elderly bachelor's trust.

Jurors in Stanislaus County Superior Court also found Howard Douglas Porter guilty of attempted murder, embezzlement and elder abuse.

Prosecutors accused Porter, 57, of staging two auto wrecks to cover up his theft of more than $1.1 million from Craig's sizable fortune. Craig had entrusted the minister with administering his money to build a museum that would show off his collection of antique farming equipment.

The first crash left Craig with serious injuries that made him unable to walk, and the second in April 2004 plunged Craig and Porter into an irrigation canal where Craig drowned in the mire.

Pastor Howard Douglas Porter's family members and friends exit the...

Porter, of Hickman, a tiny outpost about 15 miles east of Modesto, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 2.

"Even the best defense attorney couldn't save him because he was guilty as hell," said Bud Whitney, who is married to Craig's niece Marilyn Whitney. "Frank was a crotchety, difficult guy but very loving at the same time. He didn't deserve this."

After spending more than two months in trial, jurors spent less than a day deliberating before returning the guilty verdict. Porter's relatives and friends sobbed in the hallway outside the courtroom afterward, but declined to comment.

The minister's defense attorney Kirk McAllister said he planned to appeal, and said though his client was "disappointed," his faith would get him through the coming days.

"Look at the profession he's in. He's got a lot of resources that he draws on so he'll rely on those today I'm sure," McAllister said.

Investigators said they believed Porter first tried to kill Craig in 2002 when he veered his truck off a road and struck an oak tree.

Two years later, Porter's truck went flying into an irrigation ditch, and the farmer drowned. Investigators say while the driver's side window was rolled down, the passenger side window was shut tight.

Porter, who walked away from both wrecks, gave the eulogy at Craig's funeral.

The rancher's lifelong friend Les Orr said Monday he was relieved at the verdict, since he had always suspected foul play.

"Boy, that's great," said Orr, 85, of Modesto. "Now maybe Frank can rest in peace."


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