The Baton Rouge Police Department must hand over its entire investigative file on a cold-case murder to the victim’s husband, the same man who police have eyed as a suspect in the case, a 1 st Circuit Court judicial panel ruled Thursday.
The documents are being prepared for release soon, said Police Department attorney Kim Brooks, who, unlike on a previous occasion, is not appealing the decision.
The announcement is a victory for Baton Rouge attorney Joel Porter, who has argued that a provision of Louisiana’s public records law allows family members of a victim of an unnatural death to obtain law enforcement files on a case after 10 years have elapsed.
Judges John Michael Guidry, Guy Holdridge and Wayne Ray Chutz affirmed the decision of 19th Judicial District Judge Don Johnson, who last month ordered the police to allow access to the file by Sept. 10.
That process was on hold while the department appealed.
Porter’s wife, Denise, was found stabbed to death in her apartment on March 14, 1985. No one has been arrested in her killing.
Porter, 58, denies he killed his wife and has sued the Baton Rouge Police Department for mentioning him in a search warrant as a suspect, a claim Brooks, the Police Department’s attorney, repeated in recent court hearings and filings as the reason Porter doesn’t qualify for access to the files under the public records law.
“(Joel Porter) is one of the suspects in the open homicide case,” the department wrote in a filing Wednesday in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. Releasing the records to a suspect “would lead to an absurd result,” the agency argued.
Steve Irving, Porter’s attorney, says the phrasing, “one of the suspects,” shows his client is not the only person police are looking at.
Porter and his team will have access to not only documents and crime scene photos, but physical evidence in the case, including the clothing Denise Porter was wearing at the time of her murder, Irving said.
“We’re going to solve this crime,” Irving said.
Porter said he was pleased with the ruling.
“Finally we will be able to have access to the file and evidence wherein we will be able to properly investigate my wife’s murder with the purpose of bringing justice to Denise and her family,” he said. “I hope that at the end of the day we can solve my wife’s murder and lift this cloud of suspicion from over my head.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.