A Showboating Ax Murderer
(“Family Ties,” Forensic Files)
Last week’s post recapped the Forensic Files episode about Christopher Porco, whose flights of fancy and monetary misdeeds compelled him to plot the murders of his parents.
A jury convicted Christopher, an academically derelict University of Rochester student from Bethlehem, New York, of attacking Joan and Peter Porco with an ax as they slept on November 15, 2004. The tall, nice-looking 21-year-old had hoped to bail himself out of his financial problems and cadge some disposable income via his mother and father’s life insurance payout.
But, ironically, the lack of diligence that sullied Christopher’s scholarly pursuits also hindered his get-rich-quick plan. His father did not die immediately but rather lived for a few hours after the assault, and his mother survived her wounds and is alive today.
Strange functionality. This week, I’d like to focus on three of the intriguing aspects of the case. First and foremost, the medical one.
After being struck 16 times with an ax and lying unconscious as his son sneaked away from the suburban charnel house, Peter Porco arose from bed, put on clothing, ambled downstairs to get breakfast, went outside to retrieve the newspaper, realized he’d locked himself out, found a spare key in its hiding place, let himself back inside, and died of blood loss.
As Forensic Files explained it, an injury can damage the brain’s neocortex, which controls reasoning, but leave intact the underlying paleocortex, which guides second-nature habits.
“The neocortex is especially vulnerable to external injury,” according to the Handbook of Affective Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2003). “Wounds or other injury may sometimes destroy a [neo]cortical region without damaging deeper brain structures.”
In other words, Peter Porco’s fleeting transformation into a real-world ghost was haunting but not particularly mysterious.
The book also noted that the neocortex “segregates functions especially well across spatial regions” and that “lesions to the neocortex are more likely to be localized to a single region than are subcortical regions.”
I think all of that means it’s possible Peter Porco had a little help from the reasoning part of his mind post-trauma, but the subsection that enables people to self-identify as injured and in need of help was destroyed.
TV movie. On to the gossipy part of the saga. The Lifetime channel made a movie based on the crimes, Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story, in 2013. It starred Lolita Davidovich as Joan Porco and Eric McCormack as “Detective Sullivan” — presumably a composite character representing police who worked on the case.
I haven’t seen Romeo Killer (not sure whether it’s on Hulu, but there’s a trailer on YouTube) but was surprised to read that it portrayed Christopher Porco as a charming ladies man with lots of friends. The Forensic Files and 48 Hours Mystery episodes about the case didn’t play up that angle.
The movie got passing marks from reviewers, but the reader comment section was where the really interesting critiquing was going on.
Of the 40 comments posted to writer Nellie Andreeva’s Deadline Hollywood review of the movie, more than a dozen came from readers who identified themselves as neighbors or classmates of Christopher Porco — and disputed the notion of his popularity. A couple typical ones:
Leah Blodget: “Romeo? He was not. I grew up in the ‘small town of Delmar, NY’ and the guy was a clown.”
Josh: “I live [in] Delmar and go to Bethlehem High School [and] teachers who had him said he was insane. Mrs. Porco still lives here and she’s so nice. I feel bad for her that this whole thing is being brought back up.”
A Times Union blog post inviting readers to weigh in on Christopher Porco’s guilt or innocence yielded much praise for the jury and prosecutors who convicted him — as well as some refutation of claims that Christopher was well-liked. Here’s one:
Benny1311: “I was a year above Porco in school. I had some classes with him and knew one of his girlfriends well. And I must say [she] along with most of his classmates, believe him to be guilty. Chris has a small group of peer supporters – all female – many younger- who seem to have had ‘relations’ with him. His frat brothers and male friends do not back him.”
So, apparently he did have at least some girlfriends but wasn’t necessarily a full-on JFK (Jr. or Sr.) with the ladies.
Where is he now? Finally, I looked around for the latest news on Christopher Porco’s efforts to get out of jail via a new trial or overturned conviction.
In a 2010 appellant’s brief to the New York State Court of Appeals, lawyer Terence Kindlon seemed to make some reasonable points in defense of Christopher.
He noted that there were no lights on Brockley Street, where the Porcos lived, casting some doubt on a neighbor’s account of spotting Christopher’s yellow Jeep in the driveway the night of the ax attack.
The behavior of the Porco’s dog, which the prosecution had used as evidence, was also disputed in the appeal. Police had theorized that no neighbors heard Barrister bark that night because the killer was someone (presumably Christopher) that the Labrador retriever already knew.
Kindlon, however, argued that Barrister was known for not barking at visitors, whether friends or strangers.
The lawyer also noted that Peter Porco sometimes deactivated the burglar alarm when letting the dog out at night and then forgot to turn it back on — another challenge to the prosecution’s assertion that Christopher punched in the code the night of the murder and attempted murder.
Another contention — one that makes sense — was that Joan Porco’s alleged nod in answer to the question of whether or not it was Christopher who had attacked her was unreliable evidence because of her severe brain injuries.
But jurors interviewed by 48 Hours Mystery said that they had dismissed the testimony about the nod for precisely that reason and had instead relied on the prosecution’s crime timeline as proof of guilt.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Christopher’s case in 2012. He also lost an appeal in 2014, when an appellate court rejected claims that he was denied effective assistance of appellate counsel. (In fact, a number of reader comments posted to the aforementioned website articles blasted Terence Kindlon and Laurie Shanks for defending Christopher so vigorously in court.)
As of this writing, Christopher, 33, is prisoner #O6A6686 at New York state’s Clinton Correctional Facility, commonly known as Dannemora. He’ll be eligible for parole in the year 2052.
That’s all for this week. Until next Thursday, cheers.—RR