A Baton Rouge lawyer identified by police as a suspect in his wife’s unsolved 1985 murder won an initial victory Monday in his quest to obtain the investigative files kept by law enforcement regarding the killing.
Joel Porter, who discovered his wife Denise stabbed to death in their apartment on March 14, 1985, argued that a provision of Louisiana’s public records law states that 10 years after an unnatural death, the immediate family members of a victim may access the police’s documents and evidence in a case. Police agencies can typically cite the fact that an investigation is ongoing as a reason to keep the records out of public view.
Judge Don Johnson, who sits on the 19th Judicial District Court, agreed. He gave the Baton Rouge Police Department until Sept. 10 to produce the records, unless an appeals court grants a stay to the agency before that date.
The department’s attorney, Kim Brooks, said she would appeal Johnson’s decision.
Part of the hearing Monday hinged on whether the public records law pertaining to the rights of immediate family members includes suspects in ongoing murder investigations. Brooks argued it should not.
“(Porter) is a suspect in this murder. He has always been, whether he likes it or not,” Brooks told the judge, contending that Porter shouldn’t have access to the files. She also said Denise Porter’s family members do not want Joel Porter to have the documents.
Porter said he wants the investigative file so he can hire his own investigators to close the case and clear his name of any wrongdoing.
Johnson ultimately sided with Porter’s contention that the law doesn’t specify anything about whether suspects can have access to the files.
Porter filed a defamation suit against Baton Rouge police Detective John Dauthier in federal court last year for naming him as a suspect in a search warrant, which was subsequently excerpted and published in The Advocate.
Asked if he plans to sue Brooks for her comments in court Monday, Porter said, “Anyone who refers to me (as a suspect) or suggests that I killed my wife, I will take to court.”
Brooks said in an email she plans to file her appeal in Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals as soon as possible and will ask that court to delay the release of the documents until it rules in the case.
She declined to answer questions about detectives’ pace in exploring all potential culprits in the cold case, saying, “We are not going to try this case in the media despite the constant attempt by Mr. Porter to bait us into releasing details. The integrity of the police investigation is of the utmost importance to both myself, Detective Dauthier and the BRPD.”
Porter has already obtained some information relating to the investigation, including copies of DNA analysis reports by the Louisiana State Police Crime lab given to him by the state Attorney General’s office. That agency would prosecute any ensuing legal case since the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office recused itself in the matter, said Porter’s attorney, Stephen Irving.
Porter says the analysis, which revealed an unidentified DNA profile found on Denise Porter’s body, shows he was not involved in the murder. BRPD has declined to comment on that analysis, but a forensic scientist has said the unknown DNA does not necessarily connect to the person who killed Denise Porter, and could, for example, have come from a crime scene worker.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.