Just before midnight on June 26, 1987, a woman was brutally attacked and raped in her room at the LaRue Motel in Holiday, Florida.
She told police that she was watching television when she heard a noise from the kitchen-living room area. When she got up to investigate, she was confronted by a man who wrapped a belt around her neck and spun her around so she could not see his face.
The victim fled to a nearby gas station and two police officers responded to a call for help. She told them her attacker said, “I bet you didn’t know I was going to do this. I’ve been watching you.” He then dragged her from room to room and raped her in a bathtub half-filled with water.
She described her attacker as: White. Age: 38-40. Height: 5′7″-5′ 9″. Weight: 150 lbs. Hair: Dark. Eyes: Unknown. Build: Thin.
At the hospital, she gave the following description to another officer: White male, 6′1″ in height, weighed 150 lbs., had dark wavy hair, and appeared to be in his late 30s.
The two officers who took the victim’s first description went to the motel, where they met Pasco County deputy sheriff Thomas Hendrickson who was the first officer on the scene. Hendrickson found a Marlboro cigarette lying on the floor of the kitchen in the unit where Young had been attacked.
He later conducted a sweep of the area surrounding the crime scene and spoke to a handful of individuals, including Tony Hawkins, who was smoking a Marlboro cigarette. Hawkins told Hendrickson that he had come to the motel at approximately 1:30 a.m. to visit a friend who lived there. Hawkins and the friend were sitting at an outdoor table having a beer when Hendrickson spoke with them.
Hendrickson summarized in a written report his conversations with George, Hawkins, and two other individuals present at the motel. Included in Hendrickson's report was the following description of Hawkins: Born in 1944; 5′9″ in height; 160 lbs.; brown hair; blue eyes. Hendrickson also recorded the fact that Hawkins smoked Marlboro cigarettes.
A few days later, the manager of the LaRue Motel gave police the name of Michael Porter as someone who should be investigated. Porter's name surfaced after the motel manager had reviewed the guest records and determined that Porter and his wife, Susan, who were going through a bitter separation, had stayed at the motel shortly before the attack.
Porter became a target of the investigation because he had stayed at the motel and the victim said her attacker said he had been watching her.
When police told Porter’s wife that her husband was a suspect, she told police that he had a propensity for engaging in violent sex and that, at times, she feared for her physical safety. She described an incident where he had used a belt to choke her.
Police came to believe that Porter’s wife had details only the attacker would know, even though a local newspaper had published a story containing many details of the attack.
After a nearly three month investigation, police arrested Porter on September 24, 1987 and he went on trial on August 15, 1988. The victim identified him—saying that she had in fact seen her attacker, but didn’t want to say so until after he was arrested because she feared for her life. Porter’s by then ex-wife testified that he had committed a similar attack on her. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In 1994, in connection with a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Porter, an investigator with the Federal Public Defender's Office began looking into the circumstances surrounding Porter's conviction. The investigator discovered two police reports documenting the initial stages of the investigation, including the different descriptions of the criminal and the description of Hawkins. None of those reports had been given to Porter’s defense lawyer.
The federal court denied his petition, ruling that the reports were not material. In February 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded the reports were material, reversed the district court, and granted Porter's habeas corpus petition.
In November 2002, Porter was retried. The trial judge barred the ex-wife’s testimony, saying the attack she described was too dissimilar with the victim’s attack.
The defense attacked the victim’s inconsistent statements, particularly that at the first trial, the victim said Porter had never been in her room and at the second trial she said that Porter had visited her room a week before the attack.
On November 16, 2002, Porter was acquitted by a jury.
– Maurice Possley