Walter “Urkel” Porter rubbed his head and whispered to one of his attorneys Monday as a federal prosecutor described him as a shrewd killer for hire.
“The defendant sitting before you today is a good businessman. He has partners. He provides a service in which there’s a market, and he earns thousands of dollars doing it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Privitera said. “The service he provides is killing. Walter Porter is willing to kill people for money, and he did.”
So began a trial in the 2010 murder of Christopher “Tiger” Smith, one of three federal prosecutions in which the bespectacled Porter, 40, finds himself charged.
Best known as the accused hitman for Uptown drug clan leader and convicted murderer Telly Hankton, Porter is making his first trial appearance after repeated courtroom disruptions, complaints about his lawyers and a year spent at a federal medical facility in Massachusetts kept postponing the proceedings.
His attorneys, Robert Toale and Steven Lemoine, told U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance on Friday that Porter “is now completely refusing to meet with his lawyers” and also telling St. Bernard Parish jail officials to deny them access to his medical records.
Porter stayed largely quiet Monday, though he drew a warning from Vance when he made an objection early on in the trial.
He is accused of executing a hit job on Smith that had been ordered by former LSU wide receiver Nemessis “Nemo” Bates.
Bates was convicted in June and sentenced to life in prison for Smith’s Nov. 21 killing in Gretna.
Prosecutors are using much of the same evidence against Porter, who is accused of carrying out the $20,000 hit with brutal efficiency, in fact too quickly for Bates to come up with the bounty. Instead, they say, Bates turned over two high-priced vehicles as collateral to Porter and a middleman, Aaron “Beadie” Smith, who testified Monday.
Aaron Smith, who pleaded guilty in the case, admitted Monday that he was testifying in hopes of shaving time off a possible life sentence. Aaron Smith, who is no relation to the victim, described working out a deal with Bates for the $20,000, then inviting Porter in on the job because Smith was on an electronic ankle monitor from a pending attempted murder charge.
According to prosecutors, Porter fired 28 shots into Christopher Smith from a 9 mm handgun with an extended clip. He faces charges of using interstate commerce in the commission of a murder for hire, causing death through the use of a firearm and a firearms conspiracy count.
Prosecutors said Bates was irate that Christopher Smith had stolen his jewelry. Though Bates reported the theft to Kenner police, he still ordered a hit that, once fulfilled, led back to him, Aaron Smith and Porter.
“The police didn’t do anything. Christopher Smith was never arrested for it, so Mr. Bates took matters into his own hands and decided to get even in his own way,” Privitera told the jury.
The case against Porter is built in part on phone records that, according to prosecutors, prove that he and Aaron Smith checked out their target before Porter showed up at the victim’s doorstep.
Porter still awaits trial in a bank robbery and money-laundering case from 2011, in which he and others are accused of robbing two Capitol One branches of more than $100,000, then literally trying to launder the red ink-stained proceeds through a washing machine and later through change machines at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino.
Porter also is among 13 defendants in a federal gang racketeering case against the Hankton clan that includes several murder charges. That case is scheduled for trial in June.
Aaron Smith, who acknowledged that he was testifying “hopefully not to get life and to go home one day,” said that after the hit on Christopher Smith, Porter called him excitedly, telling him the job was done and he wanted his half of the $20,000. Smith said he called Bates.
“I told him, ‘Have that money. Watch the news,’ ” Smith said. But Bates could come up with only $2,000 on the spot.
Privitera told the jury that Bates ultimately paid up, but not before Smith and Porter considered killing him for his failure to pay.
Toale, Porter’s attorney, called Aaron Smith the untrustworthy “linchpin” of the government’s case. He said Porter knew both Aaron Smith and Bates, who owned Nemo’s Car Wash on Tulane Avenue at the time of the murder. But that doesn’t mean he fulfilled a hit job, Toale argued.
“He’s no stranger to them. The question is whether he’s the one who entered into an agreement with Nemessis Bates and whether or not he pulled the trigger,” Toale said. “They just have witnesses that cannot be trusted. While there’s a lot of smoke here, there isn’t the fire.”
The trial continues Tuesday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.