Ever since a Baton Rouge police cold-case detective wrote in a March 2014 search warrant affidavit that local lawyer Joel Porter has always been a suspect in the unsolved 1985 stabbing death of his wife, Porter has been champing at the bit to grill the detective about that statement.
Based on remarks by U.S. District Judge John deGravelles during a hearing Monday in Porter’s defamation lawsuit against detective John Dauthier, it appears Porter will finally get that chance.
The Baton Rouge federal judge did not rule on whether a December 2014 protective order issued by a federal magistrate in the civil case should be lifted, as an attorney for Porter argued it should be, but deGravelles hinted strongly that Porter’s lawyers are entitled to question Dauthier about what he wrote in the search warrant affidavit that led to the collection of Porter’s DNA.
John H. Smith, one of Porter’s attorneys, told the judge that Porter did not kill Denise Washington Porter, and he wants to ask Dauthier in a deposition and at trial why he considered her husband a suspect.
“I can tell you now that’s fair game,” deGravelles said.
Assistant Parish Attorney Michael Schillage, who represents Dauthier, argued Monday that truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim. But Smith countered he can’t get to the truth without questioning Dauthier about what led the detective to tell a Baton Rouge state judge 25 months ago that Porter had always been a suspect in his wife’s slaying.
“The truth, they say, lies in the cold-case file,” Smith argued. “We say it’s (the file) defamatory. We say you’re lying. It’s not true. We need full access to that file.”
Porter is in possession of some of the investigative file. A Baton Rouge state judge ordered the documents released to him under a provision of the state’s public records law.
“We don’t think it’s fair to call Mr. Porter a suspect and then hide behind the (law enforcement) investigative privilege,” Smith said.
Smith, who questioned last week in federal court documents whether there is actually an ongoing investigation into Porter’s wife’s murder, said Dauthier’s attorneys should not be able to cite the investigative privilege — and shield him from answering some questions — any longer.
“It’s been 31 years” since Denise Porter’s death. “Thirty-one years!” Smith told deGravelles. “To contemplate how more time would help puts the ball entirely in the Police Department’s court.”
The judge noted that investigative privileges “come to an end at some point.”
“My suspicion is we’re (Porter and his lawyers) going to solve the crime before they (BRPD) do,” Smith suggested.
deGravelles wondered aloud why Dauthier has not been recused from the criminal case and suggested it may be time to turn the case over to the state Attorney General’s Office. The judge said Dauthier clearly has a conflict of interest in that he has a motive to solve the murder and to prevent the defamation trial from taking place.
Schillage said Dauthier is the Police Department’s only full-time cold-case investigator.
Schillage also told the judge the Police Department has never alleged that Porter killed his wife, but he said as her husband, he had to be considered a suspect, particularly in light of the fact that she was killed in their Lobdell Boulevard apartment, there were no signs of forced entry, no signs of a rape or other crimes, and the murder appeared to be a crime of passion based on the multiple stab wounds.
Schillage also stated during the hearing that, “Presumptively, there’s more than one suspect in this case.”
Denise Porter was apparently dragged a short distance by her ankles after she was stabbed, according to investigative files.
An April 2014 Louisiana State Police Crime Lab report stated the ankle portion of Denise Porter’s sweatpants contained the DNA of an unknown person. The report ruled out Joel Porter as the contributor of that DNA. Porter contends the discovery of the unknown DNA proves he did not kill his wife. Crime Lab officials have said the very old evidence could contain DNA from any number of people working at the crime scene.
Porter has said his wife was involved in several affairs, and that two of the men lived at the same apartment complex as the Porters.
Porter claims he found his wife dead the morning of March 14, 1985, after coming home after working all night at the U.S. Post Office on Florida Boulevard.
Detectives believe her killer washed his hands and weapon with some soap in the sink and took a shower after the slaying.