Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter


The Boston Globe (AP)
The Boston Globe (AP)

On May 7, 1992, Frank Fitzpatrick and seven other survivors appeared on WBZ-TV in Boston, describing their victimization by Porter. The broadcast brought more victims forward, but authorities were still reluctant to prosecute, citing lapsed statutes of limitations and likelihood of acquittal in cases founded on repressed memories. While newspapers in North Attleboro and New Bedford soft-pedaled the story, refusing to print Porters name, the Boston Globe ran an aggressive series of articles on the expanding case. Cardinal Law responded on May 23 by raging at the press, ignoring Porters crimes and the officials who had covered for him. The papers like to focus on the faults of the few, Law declared. We deplore that. By all means we call down Gods power on the media!

Two months later, in July 1992, the story went national with a 30-minute segment on PrimeTime Live, with Diane Sawyer. Twenty-five Porter victims were featured on that broadcast, and the program brought a new flood of calls from survivors in Minnesota, Texas and New Mexico. Minnesota authorities indicted Porter for the 1987 molestation of his childrens babysitter on September 23, 1992. On the same day, in New Bedford, Porter was charged with 46 felony counts in relation to 28 Massachusetts victims molested in the 1960s. Arrested in Oakdale that afternoon, Porter waived extradition on September 24 and was flown to New Bedford for arraignment. The next morning, he pled not guilty on all counts, facing 317 years in prison if convicted.

James Porter (AP)
James Porter

By that time, 222 survivors had named Porter in allegations of sexual abuse, 97 filing civil or criminal complaints against the former priest and church leaders who sheltered him through the years. The Fall River diocese settled claims with 68 victims in October 1992, for an undisclosed amount; another 31 lawsuits were settled later, again without disclosure of the sums involved. More lawsuits were filed in Texas and New Mexico, including actions focused on the Servants of the Paraclete.

Porters first trial was held in Minnesota, in December 1992. Convicted of molesting his teenage babysitter five years earlier, Porter received a six-month jail sentence and served four months. The Minnesota Supreme Court later overturned that verdict, citing comments in the prosecutors final argument that jurors would be fools to believe Verlyne Porters testimony on her husbands behalf.

Porter back in court (Courtesy of The Standard Times)
Porter back in court
(Courtesy of The Standard

That victory on appeal was too little and too late to save Porter in New Bedford. On October 4, 1993, Porter struck a bargain with his prosecutors, pleading guilty to 41 counts of child molestation committed at five Massachusetts parishes between 1961 and 1967. On December 20, Judge Robert Steadman handed Porter a prison term of 18 to 20 years, with parole eligibility after six years. If and when he was released, Porter faced another ten years probation with mandatory counseling to curb his pedophilia. Parole has thus far been denied, and Porter remains imprisoned at this writing (in September 2001).