LOUISVILLE — A reinvestigation of a 1996 killing in Louisville is "moving in the direction" of exonerating a man who has been in prison for the last 14 years, but investigators aren't yet ready to declare that the wrong man had been jailed, a Kentucky prosecutor said Wednesday.
Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said DNA tests are pending in the case of 49-year-old Kerry Porter, who has proclaimed his innocence in the Dec. 27, 1996, shooting death of 35-year-old Tyrone Camp. Stengel wouldn't give a timeline to finish the probe, but he said investigators have gotten some DNA test results and statements leading them away from Porter.
"It's pointing in that direction; it certainly is," Stengel said at a news conference in Louisville.
Camp died while warming the engine of his truck at Active Transportation Inc. Louisville police investigated several people before focusing on Porter, who is now in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty.
Kentucky Innocence Project attorney Melanie Lowe, who represents Porter, said the case had "the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction," including a tainted police lineup and a jailhouse snitch swapping stories of a confession for leniency in his own case.
Lowe said police appeared to have "tunnel vision" about Porter, despite having the alternate suspect on their radar.
"He (Porter) was more cooperative with them in interviews than the other individual," Lowe told The Associated Press.
Porter petitioned the Kentucky Innocence Project in 2007 to review his case. After an initial screening and review, the group took on the cause in 2009 and contacted Louisville police.
"Their claims warranted an investigation, and we did that," said Sgt. Denny Butler, who works with the department's cold case squad.
Since then, DNA tests and multiple witnesses have backed Porter's claim, first made at his trial, that someone else killed Camp, Butler said.
Stengel said Porter's attorneys will soon get a statement made by a witness, Francois Cunningham, that Porter didn't kill Camp. A judge had placed the statement under seal but recently released it. Stengel said that the statement came after Porter's trial and that prosecutors did not immediately turn it over to defense attorneys, as most potentially exculpatory information is, because making it public would have endangered the witness's life.
Butler said he should have called Porter's attorneys about Cunningham's statement.
"That slipped in the end," Butler said.
Cunningham brought up Camp's murder near the end of a long police interview in which he was asked about his knowledge of crimes committed by Ricky Kelly. Kelly was previously charged in state court with eight murders, but is now charged and has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and murder related charges in federal court in Louisville.
In the interview, Cunningham provided details of Camp's murder, including that the shotgun used to kill him had been muffled with a silencer made out of carpet and duct tape, both of which were found at the scene. Cunningham said the alternate suspect wanted to kill Camp to collect $500,000 from an insurance policy, a claim similar to the one Porter made at trial.
The alternate suspect is currently serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter unrelated to Camp's death, assault and cultivating marijuana.
Lowe said the first set of DNA tests done in the case bolster Porter's case, but more tests were pending as of Wednesday.
"Everybody views DNA as the holy grail," Lowe said. "Getting a conviction overturned without it, it's nothing short of impossible."
Stengel said deciding whether to release Porter will come down to the cumulative weight of the evidence.
"DNA may not be the conclusive factor," Stengel said.
If Porter is released, he would be the third person exonerated because of a joint investigation between prosecutors and the Kentucky Innocence Project.
William Gregory was freed in 2000 after spending seven years in prison for rape and burglary. DNA test results exonerated him. A judge cleared Edwin Chandler in the death of 25-year-old Brenda Whitfield. She was shot Sept. 28, 1993, during a robbery at a Chevron Food Mart where she worked.
Lowe said Porter is excited about the prospect of getting out of prison and that "this nightmare for him could be over soon."