SUNDAY EDITION | Judge cites 'compelling evidence' in allowing w - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Judge cites 'compelling evidence' in allowing wrongful conviction suit to go to trial

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Cecilia Sanders and Kerry Porter in court earlier this year Cecilia Sanders and Kerry Porter in court earlier this year

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For more than 20 years, Kerry Porter has maintained his innocence in the 1996 murder of a truck driver, arguing that Louisville police officers purposely concealed and fabricated evidence while ignoring more likely suspects.

Porter was convicted in the murder of Tyrone Camp and spent 15 years in prison before being exonerated in 2011.

He subsequently filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit that has lingered for the last five years, until recently, when a federal judge found there is enough evidence against the city and three Louisville police officers to finally send the case to trial.

“I think the amount of misconduct in this case is shocking,” said Elliot Slosar, one of Porter’s attorneys, in an interview with WDRB News. “The evidence that we have developed … will prove to a jury that this wrongful conviction was not an accident.”

Witnesses in Camp’s murder case, as well as a fellow police officer, repeatedly told investigators that the people responsible for the slaying were Camp’s wife and a man she was having an affair with, according to court testimony and other documents.

Had information given to investigators been turned over to Porter’s defense team before trial, it could have provided “compelling evidence, rather than mere speculation, that another person committed the crime,” said U.S. District Court Judge Charles Simpson, in his May 2 ruling. “Together, the evidence very likely could have changed the jury’s decision.”

The judge’s order -- sealed until last month -- dropped a handful of other officers from the lawsuit but said “evidence indicates that Porter’s rights might have been violated” and that the three officers and the city could be found “negligent” for not preventing him from being prosecuted.

The judge’s “summary judgment” ruling is the last step in the lawsuit before trial. A trial date has not yet been scheduled. 

Similar wrongful conviction lawsuits against the city have ended up in multi-million dollar settlements, including $8.5 million in 2012 to Edwin Chandler, who spent nine years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Meanwhile, Camp’s murder remains unsolved, with the investigation moving slowly, if at all.

“There’s not much going on right now with it, honestly,” said Hardin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young, who was appointed as a special prosecutor. “It’s an open case, and (LMPD is) still working on it, but honestly, I just don’t know how much time they have. You work fresher cases. There’s just not enough evidence to go to the grand jury right now.”

And even if there is ever a new arrest, prosecutors face an uphill battle in getting a conviction.

“The commonwealth has already convinced 12 people (jurors) that another person has done it,” Young said. “It’s a built-in defense. It’s sad, awful for the victims in the case.”

In February, Louisville police for the first time publicly acknowledged that Camp’s former wife, Cecilia Sanders, and her current husband, Juan Sanders, are now “persons of interest” in his murder. 

But police this week would only say that the investigation into Camp’s murder “remains open.”

Slosar said Simpson’s ruling allows Porter to prove to a jury what he has been claiming for decades -- police knew he was not responsible for the murder yet charged him anyway.

Among the evidence Simpson cited in his ruling in allowing the case to move to trial:

  • Jailhouse informant Gregory Gully, who testified against Porter at trial, said in a deposition for the lawsuit that Louisville police Detective Rodney Kidd provided him much of the information about the Camp murder before his testimony, including that a coffee cup was sitting on a vehicle at the crime scene. The evidence “suggests that Gully’s statement was fabricated in part by Defendant Kidd” when Kidd allegedly provided information to him about the murder, Simpson wrote. Kidd has denied this and did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
  • In addition, a Louisville police officer at the time of the murder, Jackie Hollingsworth, testified she told Kidd that Gully was a confidential informant for the department and he was providing information about Porter to “get out of his charges. That’s what he does.” Defense attorneys were not told that Gully was a confidential informant, paid by LMPD to provide information in cases.
  • Hollingsworth also testified she provided information she received from witnesses that implicated Cecilia and Sanders in the murder with police officials, including Kidd and then-Det. Gary Kearney.  Kearney told her, “I know Kerry Porter’s innocent, but it’s not my case,” Hollingsworth recalled, according to court records. Hollingsworth said her concerns that police had the wrong man were ignored.
  • Convicted killer Francois Cunningham, who was in a gang with Sanders, testified he told police in 1997 or 1998 that it was Sanders, not Porter, who had killed Camp and that homicide Lt. Gene Sherrard was present and taking notes at the time. In 2011, Cunningham’s claims helped free Porter.
  • The only eye-witness to the shooting first told police he couldn’t identify the man he saw run from the murder scene. He later identified Porter in a police photo pack, but only after Cecilia had Camp’s brother, Jerome Camp, show the eyewitness a picture of Porter – and tell him the victim’s family believed Porter was the killer, tainting the identification process.

The lawsuit was filed in 2012 against the city and eight Louisville police officers. After the judge’s ruling, only the claims against metro government, Kidd, Sherrard and Det. Julius Clark remain.

The city does not discuss pending litigation but has denied liability in court documents.

Porter declined to comment through his attorney.

Sanders was convicted of manslaughter in a separate case after Camp’s murder but has since been released from prison. He has previously declined comment, but in a deposition for the civil suit, he denied any involvement in the murder.

McKay Chauvin, who prosecuted Porter and is now a circuit judge, declined to comment.

Thomas Wine, who was the judge during Porter’s trial and is now Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney, defended the prosecution and verdict, saying in an email that “police had no evidence that implicated any person other than Mr. Porter. It was a clean trial.”

Other suspects ignored

In the early dawn hours of Dec. 27, 1996, Camp was shot and killed behind his semi-truck where he worked at Active Transportation, Inc.

Another employee nearby, Kenneth Brown, heard two gunshots and drove after a man he saw fleeing from the scene.

It was dark, and Brown only caught a brief glimpse of the side of a person’s face, telling investigators he probably would not be able to identify the man, according to court records.

In a deposition for the lawsuit, Brown testified that police showed him photographs of possible suspects after the murder, but he could not identify anyone. Police denied showing Brown a photo pack at that time.

A background check of Camp by police revealed he and Cecilia had once been held hostage by Porter, an ex-boyfriend of Cecilia’s. When police subsequently interviewed Porter, he offered an alibi, saying he was at a woman’s home at the time of the shooting.

But the woman denied she had been with Porter. And while Porter claimed he later remembered he was actually at somebody else’s home, he didn’t tell police about his mistaken alibi.

Brown later picked Porter out of a six-picture police photo back, but only after Cecilia had Camp’s brother, Jerome Camp, show Brown a picture of Porter and tell him the victim’s family believed Porter was the killer.

That tainted the entire identification process, according to Porter’s lawsuit

Kidd, who retired from the police department in 2007, testified in front of a grand jury that Brown positively identified Porter as the man fleeing the murder. Kidd did not tell jurors about the improper steps taken during that process.

Brown wavered on the identification before trial, even saying it could have been Sanders he saw, but ultimately testified it was Porter.

After the indictment, a witness told Kidd he had been repeatedly threatened by Sanders, who allegedly tried to force him to identify Porter as the killer, according to records in the lawsuit. And the witness told the detective that Cecilia and Sanders were having an affair.

None of the witness’ claims were turned over to defense attorneys.

And Jerome Camp testified in the civil case that he repeatedly told Kidd he believed Cecilia was responsible for his brother’s murder, arguing she had taken out a life insurance policy on her husband before his death and bought a truck right after the slaying.

Kidd acknowledged that Cecilia had been “running around with a drug hit man, a guy named Juan Sanders … since your brother got killed,” according to Jerome Camp’s deposition in the civil case. Camp said Kidd told him he had conducted “surveillance” on Sanders and Cecilia.

Kidd also allegedly told Jerome Camp he was tried to bring Cecilia in to take a polygraph test, but she refused.

None of this information was turned over to Porter’s defense team.

At the same time, Hollingsworth -- a Louisville police officer who knew Porter -- had begun digging around in the case on her own.

Hollingsworth told Kidd she believed Sanders and Cecelia were responsible for the murder as part of a plot to get his life insurance policy money. She also told them that Sanders was affiliated with a gang calling themselves, “Murder, Inc.”

“Hollingsworth testified that (Kidd) would not listen to her information and expressed that he was convinced that Porter killed Tyrone,” according to Simpson’s recent ruling.

Hollingsworth then went to Kearney, who said he knew she was correct but it was Kidd’s case. Another supervisor also said he could not help her, Hollingsworth testified.

But Hollingsworth’s credibility will be questionable with a jury, as she also acknowledged in her testimony that she was disciplined and ultimately fired by the department for untruthfulness.

Still, Simpson ruled that by the time Porter was indicted, Kidd had “a lot of information implicating people other than (Porter.)"

“There is sufficient evidence here for a reasonable jury to find that Defendant Kidd did not have” enough for an indictment of Porter, he wrote.

Break in the case

From the moment he was arrested and then convicted, Porter has maintained that Sanders was responsible for Camp’s slaying, writing letters to the media and court officials asking for help, filing multiple appeals and waiting for an opportunity to clear his name.

Finally, in 2010, he caught a huge break.

In March of that year, at the end of a lengthy interview in an unrelated case, a cooperating government witness told police key details about Camp’s murder and claimed it was Sanders, not Porter, who was responsible.

At the same time, Sgt. Denny Butler, then the head of the police department’s cold case squad, began reviewing the Camp murder at the request of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

Butler discovered the taped statement by the witness, Francois Cunningham, a convicted killer who had been in a gang with Sanders, and interviewed him.

As part of the civil suit, Cunningham testified in a deposition that he first provided this information to police in 1997 or 1998, claiming he believed Sherrard was present and taking notes at the time.

In addition, testing showed Porter’s DNA was not on the duct tape used to make a silencer left at the crime scene that was used in the murder.

Porter’s conviction and 60-year prison sentence was thrown out Dec. 19, 2011, and his wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed a year later.

Earlier this year, Cecilia Sanders took out a domestic violence protection order against Porter, claiming he was stalking her.

Slosar told Judge Denise Brown -- and later reporters -- that the DVO petition was taken out by Cecilia Sanders to "create a theory of self-defense for when they actually attempt to kill Kerry Porter."

As proof, Slosar and attorney Julie Kaelin called Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Donald Burbrink III to testify and he acknowledged that Cecilia and Juan Sanders are currently "persons of interest" in the murder of Camp.

Burbrink also testified that Cecilia Sanders was identified in his investigation "as someone who might assist in the assassination of Mr. Porter."

At the time, Cecilia Sanders denied any attempts to harm Porter, saying she has never tried to put a "hit" on someone or even "talked about a hit." But she asked for an attorney after Slosar began questioning her more in-depth about the Camp murder and later dropped the request for a protective order.

In an interview this week about the civil case, Slosar said the city has spent five years paying attorneys to “defend an indefensible case.”

Louisville police, he said, were repeatedly warned the evidence pointed away from Porter but “they refused to adjust the investigation to ensure the right people were held accountable."

Judge Simpson found evidence Porter may have been “framed for a murder he didn’t commit,” Slosar said. “Now we have to prove that to a jury.”

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