Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christopher Porco

The Nod

Perhaps one of the more significant and controversial issues during the Porco trial was that regarding the alleged nod that Joan made during questioning soon after the attacks on the night in question. The main questions of interest concerning the matter was whether Joan was able to understand the meaning of the question due to the nature of her injuries, whether she was able to respond appropriately to that question posed to her by Detective Bowdish and whether her response to the question was interpreted correctly by those in the room with her? The prosecution and defense set out to answer these questions with the help of Detective Bowdish, two other first responders to the scene, expert witnesses and Joan Porco.

While on the stand, Bowdish described what took place that day, according to his recollection. Rick Karlin of The Times Union quoted Bowdish, who said that when he arrived, "She had her hand up and she (Joan) was motioning us over,'' He then asked the EMT's at the scene if he could have a moment with her so that he could ask her some questions.  Bowdish said that Joan was able to respond to his questions by nodding yes or no. He claimed that when he asked her if Chris attacked her she nodded a clear yes. Karlin reported that the Bowdish's testimony "offered the first detailed glimpse for the jury of her supposed implication of her son in the crime."

Bowdish's testimony was supported by Kevin Robert, a paramedic who was also at the crime scene, who claimed that he initially "found Joan Porco on her back, left eye missing, jaw crushed, teeth missing, and head fractured in several spots from repeated blows from the ax," Eamon NcNiff and Chris Cuomo reported for ABC News. Robert said he asked Joan some questions while attending to her and he claimed that she seemed to be able to follow his commands. He also said he was there when Bowdish arrived and witnessed him asking Joan approximately five questions, all of which she was able to respond to with a nod or by shaking her head. He claimed that when Bowdish asked if Chris was responsible for the attack he witnessed Joan nod her head yes. Another paramedic who was also at the scene named Dennis Wood, was also able to confirm that Joan nodded to Bowdish's question.

Based on the testimony from Bowdish, Robert and Wood, the prosecution concluded that Joan had indeed understood the questions posed to her and respond appropriately, despite her injuries. The prosecution's argument was supported by Dr. Paul Spurgas, an Albany Medical Center neurosurgeon who operated on Joan testified that there was a possibility that her injuries, which were mostly to the frontal lobe of her brain, may not have hindered her ability to communicate. Moreover, the prosecution suggested that it was highly unlikely that Joan's responses were misinterpreted, being that those at the scene came to the same conclusion as to what she was trying to communicate.

Joan Porco
Joan Porco

Several days following Bowdish's testimony, Chris' mother took the stand. She answered questions by both the prosecution and defense concerning her memory of the attacks and her relationship with Chris. Joan testified that she had no memory of the attacks or that she ever accused her some of harming her. However, she was able to remember details of her family and marriage in detail, stating at one point that she had a very good relationship with Chris and that they loved each other very much, Szubielski reported. Joan also recounted on the stand that on several occasions she saw a stranger walking up her driveway prior to the attack and alarmed the police about it, although she claimed they never followed the lead, it was further reported. 

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