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Porter v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

January 10, 2017

WILLIAM PORTER, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 338th District Court Harris County, Texas, Trial Court Case No. 1430828

          Panel consists of Justices Bland, Massengale, and Lloyd.

          OPINION

          Jane Bland Justice.

         The State charged William Porter with murder. Porter pleaded not guilty, and a jury returned a verdict of guilty and assessed his punishment at 33 years' confinement. On appeal, Porter contends that the trial court erred in admitting testimony from Porter's attorney about that attorney's removal and secretion of a bullet from the crime scene because it constitutes a privileged communication under the attorney-client privilege. We conclude that the attorney's conduct does not fall within the attorney-client relationship and thus does not fall within the privilege. We therefore affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         The murder

         On a Saturday evening in August 1986, Porter and his girlfriend, Anita Fries, [1]began using drugs at Porter's home. Porter was a drug dealer for the neighborhood. He was upset that several people, including the decedent, Gerald Oncale, owed money to him. When Porter learned that Oncale was nearby, Porter left the house and met Oncale around the corner. At that meeting, Oncale agreed to cash a check at a nearby convenience store to pay Porter the money that Oncale owed to him. Oncale cashed the check and paid Porter some of the money he owed. Oncale told Porter he had just purchased an "eight-ball" of cocaine and offered to share the drugs with Porter.

         Porter invited Oncale to join him and Fries for the evening. The three returned to Porter's home. Oncale pulled his truck into the driveway behind Porter's vehicle. They went inside Porter's house and began using the drugs.

         The conversation turned to Oncale's source for his drug supply. Oncale revealed that he had obtained the drugs from the same individual that Porter used for his supply. Porter became angry with Oncale, who was seated on the couch in the living room. The argument became heated, and Porter, standing on the other side of the coffee table across from Oncale, drew his gun. Oncale, who was seated on the couch, began to stand up. Porter ordered Oncale to sit back down. Porter then shot Oncale, who fell backward on the couch, slid onto the floor, and died.

         Fries panicked and ran to Porter's mother's house across the street. She told Porter's mother, Inga, what had happened. Inga instructed Fries to stay there while she went across the street to Porter's house. Fries watched as Porter dragged Oncale's body outside onto the front porch and went back inside. Porter retrieved a bucket of water and washed some of the blood off of the porch. Porter gathered the drugs in the house and placed them in a bag. He tied the bag with a length of fishing line, walked to a storm drain in the street nearby, and tied the bag to the grate of the storm drain so that the bag of drugs was hanging just below it.

         Inga and Porter then staged the house to appear as if a robbery had occurred. Inga told Fries that they were going to call the police and told Fries not to reveal what had happened to the police. Inga threatened that something bad would happen to Fries and her children if Fries did not comply.

         The investigation

         Deputy J. Denholm of the Harris County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene early that morning. Fries was standing outside Porter's house, and she confirmed that they had reported the shooting. As Denholm entered the house, he noticed that the front door had been splintered, but the deadbolt was undamaged. Oncale's body was on the floor just inside the door. Porter was kneeling over the body. Denholm observed that Oncale had been shot in the chest.

         Denholm found no signs of struggle inside the house. At that time, Fries told Denholm that she was asleep when the shooting occurred and did not know what had happened. Porter told Denholm that he shot Oncale about 15 minutes before Denholm arrived, in self-defense, after he found Oncale kicking in the front door. Porter said that he knew Oncale but that they had not been getting along, and that Oncale should not have been at Porter's home.

         Denholm placed Porter in his patrol car and went back into the house to continue his investigation. Denholm found the proffered explanation of the circumstances suspicious for several reasons: Oncale had no mask and was not armed; Oncale's truck was in the driveway; Fries and Porter stated that they had just been in bed, yet they were fully dressed; there were marks and blood smears on the front porch, indicating that Oncale's body had been dragged and that someone had tried to wipe up some of the blood; and there was an unexplained bloodstain on the rug in the living room. Further, the reported timing of the incident was not consistent with the appearance of the body or of pooled blood nearby. The location of the bullet's entry and exit wounds also showed that the bullet had traveled downward through Oncale's body, which was not consistent with Porter's explanation of the events.

         Denholm returned to the patrol car to check on Porter. Porter volunteered that he had never had to shoot anyone, and that after shooting Oncale, Porter had tried to resuscitate him and had carried Oncale outside. He also added that he had tried to drive Oncale to the hospital, but realized that Oncale's truck had blocked him ...


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