A federal jury on Wednesday convicted Walter “Urkel” Porter, an alleged hitman for former Uptown crime kingpin Telly Hankton, on three felony counts in the 2010 killing of Christopher “Tiger” Smith on Smith’s doorstep in Algiers.
Prosecutors said former LSU wide receiver Nemessis “Nemo” Bates paid $20,000 for the hit on Smith and that Porter eventually received half of that for carrying it out on Sept. 21, 2010.
Bates was convicted by a jury last year and sentenced to a life prison term for ordering the hit. A middleman named Aaron “Beadie” Smith, who is no relation to the victim, pleaded guilty in 2013 and testified against both men, admittedly hoping to shave time off a possible life sentence.
Porter’s ex-girlfriend and his alleged partner in a pair of bank robberies also testified that Porter told them he had killed Christopher Smith, after which Bates initially failed to come up with the money.
Prosecutors produced cellphone records tracking Porter exchanging calls with Aaron Smith and traveling across the river to the West Bank just before Christopher Smith was shot 28 times with a Glock 9mm handgun with an extended clip.
The phone records then tracked Porter going back across the Crescent City Connection within minutes.
A man who was found with the gun used in the murder identified Porter as the man who sold it to him sometime after Christopher Smith’s killing.
Porter was convicted of using interstate commerce in the commission of a murder for hire, causing death through the use of a firearm and a firearms conspiracy charge. He faces a life prison term when U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance sentences him June 29.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Liz Privitera and Gregory Kennedy told the jury during the three-day trial that Porter committed the killing simply for the money.
Bates was angry at Christopher Smith for stealing his jewelry and spread the word that he wanted Smith dead, prosecutors said.
Aaron Smith, who was on an electronic ankle monitor at the time because of a pending attempted murder charge, testified that he told Bates he would take on the hit job and then enlisted Porter, an acquaintance from their Uptown neighborhood, to do the actual killing.
Prosecutors said Porter obliged promptly, gunning down the victim and then calling Aaron Smith with word to have his money ready.
Bates came up well short of the agreed-upon $20,000, giving the two men $2,000 and two luxury cars as collateral for the rest. He also rented Porter a car at the airport, prosecutors said.
Porter was stopped for speeding in the car in Florida, adding to the trail of evidence tying him to the murder.
“Tiger Smith is dead now because (Porter) wanted to get paid,” Kennedy told the jury in his closing argument. “That’s all this is about.”
Robert Toale, one of Porter’s attorneys, argued that the witnesses in the case — including several former associates of Porter — all were untrustworthy, crafting their statements to please the government and secure leniency for themselves.
Among those witnesses were Haley Smith, who claimed he played video games daily with Porter and heard him talking about killing Christopher Smith, and Brian “Beano” Hayes, a close Porter associate who pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal bank robbery and firearms counts. Hayes admitted robbing two Capital One branches of more than $130,000 in 2011 with Porter and others.
Those witnesses, once friends of Porter, were all riding “the freedom train,” Toale told the jury.
“The government is now trying to convict an innocent man, and he has been betrayed by Aaron Smith, Haley Smith, Brian Hayes, people that he’s known for years. And now he’s being betrayed by the government,” Toale argued. “I am trusting you to protect an American citizen from the testimony of liars, cheaters, manipulators. People who will do anything. They’d sell their mother.”
The jury didn’t buy it, convicting Porter on all three counts he faced.
Porter still awaits trial in the bank robbery case, in which he’s accused also of orchestrating an attempt to launder red ink-stained cash through change machines at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino.
He’s also among 13 defendants, including Hankton, named in a sprawling gang racketeering case slated for trial in June.
Porter spent the better part of a year at a federal medical facility in Massachusetts before he was deemed competent to stand trial.
Prone to writing elaborate, jargon-heavy letters to Vance, Porter remained largely quiet during the trial as prosecutors portrayed him as a ruthless killer for cash.
Porter’s nickname of “Urkel” derives from the nerdy character in the 1990s TV sitcom “Family Matters.” He also goes by “Moonie.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.