The accused go-to hit man for former Central City crime kingpin Telly Hankton is hoping for help on the witness stand from an unlikely source: a man he’s accused of shooting 17 times to keep him from testifying against Hankton at a 2011 state murder trial.
That man, John Matthews, survived his wounds to provide key eyewitness testimony against Hankton, who was convicted in the 2008 murder of Darnell Stewart outside the Jazz Daiquiris lounge on South Claiborne Avenue.
Matthews’ brother, Curtis Matthews, wasn’t so fortunate. Prosecutors allege that the same hit man, Walter “Urkel” Porter, gunned him down outside the same daiquiri shop on Oct. 15, 2011, allegedly in retribution for his brother’s testimony and just days after a judge sentenced Hankton to life in prison.
John Matthews initially identified a cousin of Hankton, Thomas “Squirt” Hankton, as his assailant. But federal prosecutors have since charged Porter with the assault, claiming Thomas Hankton paid him $10,000 for the hit on Telly Hankton’s behalf.
Matthews’ identification of Thomas Hankton as his shooter is expected to be used by Porter’s defense in another federal case, in which Porter is accused of carrying out another hit job a month later, using the same 9mm handgun.
Not all of Porter’s purported killings were at Hankton’s request, and he is slated to stand trial Dec. 7 in federal court for an alleged freelance hit on Christopher “Tiger” Smith, who was gunned down in his Gretna doorway five weeks after John Matthews was shot inside his home in New Orleans East.
In calling Matthews to the stand, Porter’s attorneys are aiming to cast doubt on who had possession of the 9mm gun, at least by the time Smith turned up dead.
The case is separate from a federal racketeering prosecution that names Porter, 39, among 13 alleged members and associates of a violent Hankton drug clan. That case is scheduled for trial in June.
Robert Toale, one of Porter’s attorneys, declined to comment on the case going to trial next week.
However, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office last week asked U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to bar Matthews’ testimony, arguing that it would result in “undue risk of continued harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay and wasting time.”
Prosecutors argue that the testimony would be pointless because an investigation later turned up witnesses with “firsthand knowledge” of Porter’s shooting of Matthews, as well as “witnesses who Porter made admissions to about shooting (him) and the subsequent payment he received for the shooting.”
Another witness, prosecutors said, identified Porter as the one who sold him the 9mm handgun sometime around May 2011, six months after Smith’s murder. The same gun has been linked by ballistics to at least five murders, two attempted murders and an armed robbery.
Vance has not yet ruled on the issue.
In June, a federal jury convicted former LSU wide receiver Nemessis “Nemo” Bates of ordering the hit on Smith; during the trial, a former co-defendant, Aaron “Beadie” Smith, testified that he farmed out the job to Porter. Bates awaits sentencing next month.
The gunman who killed Smith fired at least 28 times, all from the 9mm handgun tied to Porter, authorities allege.
Prosecutors say Bates didn’t pay up when Porter and Aaron Smith came for a promised $20,000 bounty, so Bates turned over his black Mercedes to Porter instead. Five days after Christopher Smith’s murder, Porter was driving the Mercedes at Cadiz and Willow streets when police pulled him over.
Porter’s attorneys, in another recent motion, asked to exclude from his trial the field interview card that NOPD officer Beau Gast filled out on the traffic stop, as well as testimony from Gast. Toale argued that Gast had no valid reason to stop Porter and that cellphone records prosecutors are using against Porter stemmed from that stop.
As a result of an illegal stop, Toale wrote, “Mr. Porter’s disclosure of his own name to Officer Gast is now a strand in a rope of evidence that the government is attempting to hang Porter with.”
Gast was fired from the NOPD in 2011 for falsely arresting two women on solicitation charges without legal authority.
Porter faces charges of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder for hire, causing death through the use of a firearm and participating in a firearms conspiracy.
Porter spent a year at a federal medical facility near Boston after being deemed incompetent to stand trial. Last summer, he was found ready to face federal juries in three prosecutions.
Along with Smith’s murder and the Hankton racketeering case, Porter faces charges from a pair of 2011 armed bank robberies that netted some $134,000.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.