A White Marsh woman, convicted seven years ago of hiring a hit man for $400 to kill her husband and conspiring with others, will receive a new trial the Maryland Court of Appeals recently ruled in a 4-3 decision split along gender lines. (Karla Louise Porter v. State of Maryland, No. 88, September Term,2016, Opinion by Adkins, J.)
Karla Porter, now 55, was sentenced to life without parole in the death of her husband, William “Ray” Porter, who was shot at his Towson BP gas station on March 1, 2010. Porter argued at trial that she suffered more than two decades of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, which led her to believe he would kill her if she did not kill him first. This evidence laid the foundation for the “Battered Spouse” defense. As opposed to the Self Defense theory, which if successful can result in an outright acquittal, the “Battered Spouse” defense is referred to as an “imperfect” defense which in contrast results in a Manslaughter conviction which carries a maximum penalty of ten years.
The jury, composed of nine women and three men, convicted Porter of first-degree murder. Karla Porter was sentenced to life without parole in her husband’s death.
The Court of Appeals opined that a woman who acts in imperfect self-defense is certainly not allowed to be acquitted outright of killing her abusive husband. The doctrine of imperfect self-defense permits her to make a factual case to the jury that she committed the lesser crime of manslaughter.
The Court held that Porter presented sufficient evidence that she feared imminent harm to be entitled to an imperfect self-defense jury instruction. The dissent rejected the logic of a finding of her fear of “imminent” bodily harm given the fact that Porter planned the murder and hired third parties to carry out her lethal plan.
Most importantly, the Court held that the substantive error in the delivered instruction was NOT HARMLESS and thus infected the verdict. Accordingly, the case was remanded for a new trial on all counts.
If the judge or jury in the new trial finds for Porter on the imperfect self-defense/ “Battered Spouse” theory she now faces conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter on all counts.