The man who pleaded guilty to killing a John Day police officer in 1992 will soon be freed.
The Oregon Supreme Court denied a request Thursday to review an appeals court decision that reinstated Sidney Dean Porter’s 2013 prison release date due to legal errors that year by the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision.
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter said the board will now begin putting together a release plan for Porter, who killed Officer Frank Ward April 8, 1992.
“After all the hard work that my staff and I put in to ensure that Porter would remain incarcerated, the decision of the Supreme Court is disappointing, but not unexpected,” Carpenter said.
Porter had pleaded guilty to aggravated murder. According to the appeals court opinion, Porter attacked Ward, who had responded to a report of domestic violence at Porter’s residence. Porter “bludgeoned Ward with his fists and a 10-pound piece of firewood,” according to the opinion, and the autopsy revealed a skull fracture and contusions in Ward’s brain.
After Carpenter’s testimony before the parole board in 2015, the board ruled Porter was a danger to the community and ordered him to remain in custody until at least 2020. In September 2016, however, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the parole board’s decision to postpone Porter’s 2013 prison release date, stating the board lacked authority to rescind a release date “absent a timely hearing,” according to the court opinion.
“A defining principle of our legal system is that both sides have the opportunity to be heard before decisions are made which affect them,” Carpenter said. “The Court of Appeals found that Porter was not given such an opportunity, and the Supreme Court apparently agrees.”
The appeals court ruled the parole board should not have postponed the 2013 release date without a timely hearing. Carpenter, who was elected in 2014, said a June 2013 release date was issued after a former district attorney failed to present evidence at an exit interview earlier that year.
Although more evidence was provided after that interview, the parole board did not hold a hearing with Porter until September 2013, after postponing the June release date. The appeals court ruled evidence presented after the postponement of the release date could not be used to justify the postponement that already occurred.
In his appeal, Porter argued the parole board erred in rescinding the planned release date, in postponing the release date and in reconvening an exit interview after the planned released date had passed.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed the board committed legal errors and reversed the board’s determination, stating that Porter was entitled to a timely hearing on rescinding the release date, that the board did not provide a statutorily valid reason for postponing the planned released date and that the board could not rely on information received later to justify a prior postponement of the release date.
The appeals court opinion states Oregon law at the time required the imposition of a life sentence with a 30-year minimum period of incarceration. The law also required the board to hold a hearing after 20 years “to determine if the prisoner is likely to be rehabilitated within a reasonable period of time” if the prisoner requested it, which he did.
The parole board held the hearing in July 2012 and determined Porter was likely to be rehabilitated and ordered the sentence converted to life with the possibility of parole.
In a November 2012 prison-term hearing, the board set a projected parole release date of June 7, 2013, and required Porter to complete a psychological evaluation and participate in an exit interview.
In February 2013, the board held the exit interview and reviewed Porter’s psychological diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and alcohol dependence in remission before affirming the 2013 release date with an order stating, “Based on the doctor’s report and diagnosis ... the inmate does have an emotional disturbance; however the emotional disturbance is not presently so severe as to constitute a danger to the health and safety of the community.”
On June 4, 2013, the board issued a new order rescinding the planned release date, reopening the February 2013 decision and reconvening the exit interview.
In September 2013, the board conducted a new exit interview affirming the decision to rescind the release date, reaching the different conclusion that the emotional disturbance was a danger, and extended the release date 24 months. When Porter requested an administrative review of the board’s decisions, the board explained it relied in part on information submitted after the February interview, including “the DA submission of documents showing a history of assault” on Porter’s ex-wife, according to the opinion.
Supporting its ruling to reverse the parole board’s decision, the appeals court said in its opinion, once a release date has been set, it can only be postponed if the prisoner has engaged in serious misconduct during confinement, if the prisoner is diagnosed with a severe emotional disturbance that would make him a danger to the community or if the prisoner’s release plan is deemed to be inadequate. The appeals court ruled rescinding the release date had the practical consequence of postponing it, and the board did so without making one of the three required determinations.
The appeals court also cited case law demonstrating a valid reason to postpone the release was required before the release was postponed.