James Nielsen ChronicleAllen Wayne Porter, 39, who spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit, is all smiles Friday as he is surrounded by family members and his lawyer, Casey Garrett.
No one would blame Allen Wayne Porter if he had bitterness about spending half his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit. For 19 years, he consistently claimed his innocence, and no one would listen.
But Porter, who was set free on Friday, isn't interested in living with an angry heart. His Christian faith, which he says got him though those tough years, won't let him.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Porter said. "I think that's mainly what it was. They just made a big mistake."
Surrounded by his mother, sister and other family members, Porter, 39, thanked God and his attorney, Casey Garrett, for getting him released.
After fighting for so long to gain his freedom, now that he has it, it almost doesn't feel real, he said.
Porter was sentenced to life in prison for a June 18, 1990, rape and robbery in southwest Houston. He was identified as one of three men who kicked their way into a drug dealer's residence in search of money and drugs. They terrorized the apartment's four occupants, repeatedly raping two women.
Porter said he was innocent from the beginning. He tried to challenge his conviction but was turned away by several lawyers.
His break came last year when he wrote a letter to Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, explaining how he was found guilty by mistaken identity. Lykos reopened the case, launching an investigation.
During a hearing Thursday, Porter's nephew, Jimmy Hatton, and Perry Harrison told state District Judge Joan Campbell they committed the crime along with a third man. They said Porter was not at the crime scene.
Porter was arrested while attending Hatton's trial with other family members after one of the rape victims identified him as her attacker.
Free on $30,000 bail
Campbell found Hatton and Harrison credible witnesses. On Friday, she ordered Porter's release on $30,000 bail. She plans to forward her findings of fact in the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and recommend that Porter's conviction be overturned and his life sentence be vacated.
If the court agrees with Campbell's findings of actual innocence, it would grant Porter a new trial.
"The court of criminal appeals still has to make final decision," Garrett, Porter's lawyer, said. "We will wait anxiously for them to make a decision. I'm hopeful and confident it will endorse Judge Campbell's findings. I think the court of criminal appeals will do the right thing."
Special prosecutor Bob Loper said that if Porter is granted a new trial, he would move to dismiss the case.
"It's a completely sad case," Loper said. "No one could imagine a family member going through that, and to know that for so many years this has happened and someone's been crying out they're innocent. You can't wrap your mind around that."
First hearing in 2004
Porter first presented his case before Campbell in 2004. He obtained DNA testing,which failed to link him to rape-scene evidence. But a lab technician testified that absence of DNA evidence linking Porter to the crime didn't mean he was innocent. Campbell ruled against him.
In his second appearance before Campbell, Porter had testimony and fingerprints — evidence found by Lykos' post-conviction review team — to back his claim of innocence.
Baldwin Chin, a member of the review team, interviewed Hatton and Harrison, which led to the third suspect's name - and to the fact that finger and palm prints at the crime scene had never been identified.
Chin told the judge that four of six prints collected at the scene matched those of the third never-apprehended suspect.
Lykos said her office has a sworn mission to serve justice. "The integrity of the criminal justice system means everything," Lykos said. "Wrongful convictions are a triple tragedy - for the accused, the victim and for society. The true criminal is free to continue to commit offenses."
Word of advice
Porter said he never once thought about giving up. He said his faith in God and support from his family kept him strong. He said he would advise others in his same position to do what he did.
"Don't never give up," he said. "It's never over. As long as you are breathing, just keep fighting."
His sister, Sandra Reeves, said the family is thrilled to have him home and harbors no bad feelings about what happened to him. She said they drew their strength from Porter.
"There were times when I got down, and I could read his letters and just hear the determination in the letters," Reeves said. "And I thank God I drew from that and I held on."
Hatton remains in prison serving a life sentence for the crime.
Harrison, who was never charged with the crime, is serving a drug sentence in state prison.
The third suspect cannot be charged because the statute of limitation has passed.