Parole Board to consider ex-fugitive’s request

PLEADING HIS CASE Norman A. Porter has accepted responsibility for his crimes and plans to testify at the hearing, his lawyer said. PLEADING HIS CASE
Norman A. Porter has accepted responsibility for his crimes and plans to testify at the hearing, his lawyer said.
By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / October 6, 2009

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Norman A. Porter’s friends - and even some former prison officials - say he has redeemed himself since his conviction for killing two men in the 1960s. They say the 69-year-old should be freed from a Shirley prison so he can return to the life he built as a fugitive in Chicago, where he wrote poetry, lectured at church, and worked as a handyman.

But prosecutors and the families of Porter’s two victims say he is where he belongs and should stay behind bars.

Today, the Massachusetts Parole Board is expected to hear testimony from both sides as it considers Porter’s first request for parole since he was captured in Chicago in 2005 and sent back to prison, after 20 years as a fugitive.

“Here’s a man who was involved in two violent crimes nearly 50 years ago who has done all he can to rehabilitate himself,’’ said Boston lawyer Thomas D. Herman, who represents Porter. “We’re going to argue that he’s no longer a threat to the community.’’

Porter has accepted responsibility for his crimes and plans to testify at the hearing, he said.

Joan Robinson, whose father was working at the Middlesex County Jail in 1961 when he was shot to death during an escape by Porter and another inmate, said she is “very much opposed to his being released on parole.

“Basically, he was convicted of two murders, and he escaped from prison and spent 20 years on the run,’’ Robinson, who lives in Vermont, said by phone yesterday. “I think he should spend the rest of his days in prison to make up for all that time he was gone.’’

In the 1960s, Porter pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slayings of John “Jack’’ Pigott, 22, a clerk who was shot during a Sept. 29, 1960, robbery at a Saugus clothing store, and David Robinson Sr., 53, a Middlesex County jailer who was gunned down on Mother’s Day 1961 during the short-lived break-out of Porter and the other inmate. Porter was sentenced to life in prison, with parole eligibility in 15 years.

Porter was accused of being the triggerman who killed Pigott, but insisted it was his accomplice. In the jailbreak case, guards said Robinson was killed by another inmate after Porter refused to shoot Robinson and tossed the gun to the floor.

Porter’s sentence for Robinson’s slaying was commuted by Governor Michael S. Dukakis in 1975, but he remained imprisoned for Pigott’s murder. In December 1985, after serving 25 years in prison, Porter fled while being held at the Norfolk Pre-Release Center.

He remained a fugitive until March 2005, when investigators from Massachusetts State Police and the Department of Correction captured him in Chicago, where he had published a poetry book under his alias Jacob “J.J.’’ Jameson, was a frequent lecturer at a local church, and worked as a handyman.

He was sent back to prison to finish his term for Pigott’s murder, and sentenced to an additional three years for the 1985 escape.

“My feelings are that he should serve out his time,’’ said Claire Wilcox, who was engaged to marry Pigott when he was slain. “The one issue I take offense to is [Porter’s supporters] did not know him then,’’ Wilcox said. Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett and Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. both oppose Porter’s parole, according to spokesmen for their offices. They declined to comment on the hearing.

Porter has support from people he befriended in Chicago and from prison officials who credit him with being a model inmate during his incarceration here.

Frank Hall, who was commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction from 1973 to 1979, said by phone yesterday from Florida that he has written a letter to the parole board, urging Porter’s release.

Hall credited Porter with helping to calm inmates at the Norfolk state prison during the 1970s when inmates and employees had been killed, and there were uprisings at prisons nationwide.

“He was a very positive influence within the system,’’ Hall said. “I think obviously a price has to be paid for the things he did when he was young, and I think he’s paid that price.’’