So much for having to screen over 800 Albany County residents for potential jury selection in the Christopher Porco murder trial.
The Third Appellate District in Brooklyn has ordered the trial be moved to the Orange County town of Goshen, about two hours from the Capital District.
`I feel the Appellate Division made a very intelligent decision,` said Judge Jeffrey Berry to the members of Albany County District Attorney’s office and the defense team, who were present in Albany County Court on Thursday, June 15, the last day of pre-trial proceedings. Christopher Porco is charged with the murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother.
`I was wondering if we would ever get a judge here,` said Berry, who believes it will be no problem selecting people from Orange County to sit on the jury. `I may still do a pre-screening process, but I don’t think anybody in this county knows about this case.` Berry believes he will only have to pre-screen 50 to 60 potential jurors when jury selection begins June 26.
It is Berry’s opinion that the trial should not last longer than three or four weeks; however, if Thursday’s court proceedings are anything like the upcoming trial, it could take much longer.
`We have about 135 witnesses, and I do plan on calling a majority of them,` said assistant district attorney and chief prosecutor in the Porco case, Michael McDermott. `I would ask the court to modify the trial date so we can present an effective trial.`
Local witnesses will now have to travel to Orange County, and the county will have to provide travel expenses and accommodations. Eight staff members in the Albany County D.A.’s office will be moving to Orange County temporarily to handle the case. Both the defense team led by Terrence Kindlon and Laurie Shanks and the prosecution team led by McDermott and Assistant D.A. David Rossi will have to find office space for headquarters and accommodations for the duration of the trial. Expenses for Albany County are expected to total $300,000.
`It will be a much greater strain on you than it will be on me,` said Berry. `Instead of me staying locally you will all come down here and stay.`
One of the 135 witnesses expected to testify for the prosecution is legendary forensic science expert and investigator Dr. Henry Lee, founder of the Forensic Science Program at the University of New Haven. Lee is considered an expert qualified court witness in not only forensic science, but blood splatter analysis. McDermott is expected to ask for Lee’s opinion on a Thruway toll ticket prosecutors believe matches Porco’s fingerprints with a mitochondrial DNA test recently performed on the ticket. It is the prosecution’s contention that Porco left the University of Rochester on Nov., 2004 and drove down the Thruway to his home in Delmar where he killed his father Peter Porco and attacked his mother Joan with an axe while they were sleeping upstairs in the master bedroom before leaving the house and heading back on the Thruway to Rochester in the middle of the night.
`Has Dr. Lee done an evaluation?` asked Berry.
`He has been provided vital documents but has not generated any type of reports,` answered McDermott. Kindlon considers an additional 1,556 pages of documents presented by the prosecutors along with this new evidence to be typical of the way the case has been handled so far by the Albany County District Attorney’s office.
`This is trial by ambush and denial of due process,` said Kindlon. `It’s a snow job.`
Attorney Michael Grygiel, representing specific media outlets, asked Berry if still photos could be taken during the trial. Berry said he will allow still photos but not televised coverage of the trial.
`I firmly believe the public has a right to know what’s going on in the courtroom, the press should be here, and I stand by that,` Berry said.
CBS 48 Hours Mystery was present on the last day of the pre-trial and asked if they would be allowed to film the lawyers’ closing arguments in the case along with the jury’s verdict. Judge Berry said filming of closing arguments would be allowed but it is up to the jury if they want the verdict to be viewed.
`I very much yield to the feeling of the jury when they are giving up four to six weeks of their life,` said Berry.
Grygiel also wants the media to be allowed to obtain the 6.5-hour video tape interrogation by Bethlehem police of Porco.
`I think you are entitled to it unless I feel it hampers a fair trial,` said Berry.
The Porco murder trial is expected to start immediately after the jury is convened. Orange County Supreme Court has several courtrooms. The trial is expected to be held inside the ceremonial court to allow room for all participants.
When Christopher Porco’s trial begins, The Spotlight will provide daily coverage on its Web site, www.spotlightnews.com