Anthony Porter - The Trial

The Case of Anthony Porter


The Trial

A death penalty trial is conducted in two parts, referred to as a "bifurcated trial": a guilt phase and a penalty phase.  During the guilt phase, a jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or innocent of the charged crimes.  If the defendant is found guilty of capital murder, the trial moves to the penalty phase, in which the jury receives additional information about the crime and the defendant, and decides whether he should be executed.

The Defense Attorneys

Although Porter qualified for representation by the Cook County Public Defender's Office, his family thought he would have a better chance of acquittal with a private lawyer.  They retained Akim Gursel, a private Chicago lawyer who agreed to represent Porter for $10,000.  However, Porter's family paid Gursel only $3,000.  Gursel admitted later that he stopped investigating the case due to insufficient funding.


Trial: Guilt/Innocence Phase

In the guilt phase the prosecution and defense present opening and closing statements, call witnesses to the crime and expert witnesses, and present physical evidence and the results of any forensic testing.  For the defendant to have a fair trial, the defense counsel must be prepared to contest the prosecution’s allegations where possible.

In September 1983, Porter went on trial in Cook County Circuit Court.  During trial Porter's attorney once fell asleep and had to be awakened by the judge.

The Prosecution’s Case

On August 15, 1982, at approximately 1 a.m., Henry Williams and William Taylor went to Washington Park in Chicago and entered the pool area in the park by climbing over a fence.  At the same time, Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green were sitting in the bleachers to the west of the pool.  Henry Williams testified that as he was getting dressed after swimming, Anthony Porter approached with a gun in his hand and asked Williams if he had any money.  Porter put a gun to Williams's head, took two dollars, and left.  Williams testified he saw Porter in the bleacher area a few feet from Hillard and Green, and heard shots as he finished dressing and jumped back over the fence.  Tayloy continued swimming after Williams left the pool.  Williams testified that as he was drying off, he saw Porter standing less than two feet from Hillard with his arm extended and a gun in his hand.  Porter shot Hillard.  Hillard fell back, and Porter shot him again.  Porter then ran down the bleachers toward Taylor, passed within three feet of him, and left the pool area.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Officer Anthony Liance of the Chicago Police Department responded to a call that a man had been shot in Washington Park.  As Officer Liance approached the pool area, he observed Marilyn Green running from the north end of the bleachers, holding her neck with her right hand and gesturing toward the south end of the bleachers with her left hand.  As Officer Liance continued toward the bleachers, he saw a person whom he later identified as Anthony Porter running next to the bleachers.  Officer Liance stopped and frisked Porter, but let him go because Liance did not find any weapons in Porter's possession.

Cook County Medical Examiner Joanne Richmond performed autopsies on both Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard.  Green had three gunshot wounds.  She was shot twice in the right side of the neck at close range, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 feet, and a third time in her left hand.  She died from massive bleeding due to those wounds.  Hillard was shot twice from close range and died from gun shot wounds to the head.  A "black powdery substance" was on the back of his left hand.

Both Henry Williams and William Taylor were taken to the police station for further questioning.  They identified Porter from a mug book, saying they had seen Porter regularly in the neighborhood for one to three years before the shooting.  Taylor testified that when he was at the police station on August 15, 1982, he said he did not see the defendant shoot Hillard because he was afraid for his life.  Taylor claimed he had seen the defendant mug two old men, and also that the defendant had jumped one of his friends.  Taylor feared for the safety of his 95-year-old great-grandmother, with whom he lived.  On August 18, Taylor identified the defendant in a police station lineup.

The Defense Case

Defense counsel called three witnesses on Porter's behalf.  The first witness was Eric Werner, a photographer who presented testimony regarding the physical appearance of the pool area.  Werner photographed the area at the request of Porter's counsel, more than a year after the shootings.

Kenneth Doyle also testified on behalf of Porter.  He said he was at Porter's mother's house on the evening of August 14, 1982.  He and Porter sat on the back porch drinking until about 2 a.m., when they went with a friend to a nearby playground, and continued to drink until 9 a.m.  Under cross-examination, Doyle admitted that when he talked to detectives on August 17, 1982, he told them he was drinking with Porter until 10:30 p.m. on August 14, and spent the rest of the evening with his mother.  He said he lied to the police, giving the earlier time, out of fear of being arrested.

Finally, the defense called Georgia Moody, the common-law wife of one of Porter's brothers, who testified she saw Porter at his mother's house on the evening of August 14, 1982. Porter and Doyle were playing cards with her children; they did not go out to the porch, and they were not drinking.  According to Moody, Porter left the house around 2:30 a.m. the following morning with Doyle and a friend.

The Verdict

After deliberating for nine hours, the jury found Porter guilty of two counts of murder, one count of armed robbery, one count of unlawful restraint, and two counts of unlawful use of weapons.


The Trial: Penalty Phase

During the second phase of a death penalty trial, evidence is presented concerning matters of "aggravation" and "mitigation."  An "aggravating circumstance" is a fact or situation that increases the defendant’s overall culpability.  Aggravating circumstances generally include such matters as evidence of future dangerousness, evidence relating to the circumstances of the crime, the defendant's prior criminal record, or evidence about the victim and the impact of the killing on the victim's family.  A "mitigating circumstance" is a factor that lessens the defendant's overall culpability and makes a life sentence more appropriate.  Mitigating circumstances generally include such matters as the defendant's disadvantaged upbringing, his intellectual deficits, or positive accomplishments during his life.  The jury is instructed to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and to decide whether the defendant's sentence should be death or life.

Bench Sentence

The second phase of Porter's trial began the day after the jury's guilty verdict, at which time defense counsel Gursel waived Porter's right to a jury trial for sentencing and instead requested a sentencing hearing before the judge.  Gursel later admitted his supervisor instructed him to opt for a bench sentencing because his fee had not been paid and a bench sentencing would be quicker and less work than a jury sentencing.  In bench sentencing it is up to the judge alone to decide whether to sentence the defendant to death.  Before the jury was dismissed, however, Gursel told the judge he had discovered that one of the jurors and the mother of the victim attended the same church.  Since the juror had failed to disclose this relationship, Gursel moved for a mistrial.  The prisiding judge briefly questioned the juror, who responded that her relationship to the victim's mother had not affected her decision and that she had not even realized the relationship until the trial had started.  The judge denied the motion for mistrial.

Reasons For Sentencing Porter to Death

During the second phase of Porter's trial, the State presented aggravating evidence of Porter's prior criminal history.  On April 27, 1979, Porter was placed on probation for jumping bail.  Porter violated his probation two months later when he robbed and physically assaulted Douglas McGhee, who had been sitting on the bleachers next to the pool in Washington Park – the crime scene.  Additionally, Porter pleaded guilty to robbery and bail jumping on October 6, 1980, and was sentenced to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.  He was released from prison a year later, and was on parole for two years.

While on parole, Porter got into an argument with a man named Earl Lewis.  Porter kicked Lewis's dog and when Lewis confronted him, he threatened to hurt Lewis.  Porter placed a gun to Lewis's head and fired.  Lewis moved back just as the gun was fired, and the bullet grazed his forehead.  Porter later plead guilty to aggravated battery of Earl Lewis.

Reasons for Sparing Porter's Life

The defense presented evidence in mitigation.  Porter had attended a church and for approximately two years had helped clean it.  He also ran errands for an elderly man recuperating from a heart attack, and assisted his grandmother, who suffered from epileptic seizures, by preparing her food, cleaning her house, and helping her take her medicine.

Porter’s mother had raised him – one of nine children – in the housing project by herself.  Several witnesses testified Porter could become a useful citizen if given the chance and asked that his life be spared.

The Verdict

The judge found nothing in mitigation sufficient to preclude capital punishment and on September 9, 1983, sentenced Anthony Porter to death.