In 1960, Norman A. Porter, Jr., committed an armed robbery and, in 1961, a jailbreak. These two offenses resulted in the deaths of two people. Norman was 20 years old. He had no prior adult criminal record. In neither crime was he the shooter.
During 25 years in Massachusetts state prisons, Norman turned his life around. Correctional officers, along with many others who knew Norman personally or professionally, recognized his rehabilitation. But the system repeatedly denied his efforts for release. In 1985, Norman walked away from a minimum security facility. For 20 years, he lived a rich, productive, and law-abiding life under another name. In 2005, he was arrested at his church and returned to prison.
From the first, Norman's story has been sensationalized, inaccurately reported, misrepresented, twisted, and lied about. To many people, for many reasons, assembling the facts and telling the truth about Norman has simply not been important.
The truth is that Norman Porter is not a monster, a number in a prison uniform, a "case," or a character in a sensationalized story. He is a man who made terrible mistakes and paid for them. He is a man who has struggled to rehabilitate himself and to earn release from prison. He is a man to whom the correctional system made promises that it has not honored. That is the truth of Norman Porter's life.
Presenting that truth is the purpose of this website.
September 28, 2008: Rebuttal to comments made at
Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
On September 28, Newburyport Documentary Film Festival judges awarded first place honors to “Killer Poet,” a film about Norman Porter. Speaking during the talkback following the film on Norman’s behalf were Frank Hall, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Corrections; former assistant commissioner Dave Haley; and Carlo Geromini, teacher and then principal of the school at MCI Norfolk when Norman was incarcerated there. Speaking in opposition were retired Lt. Kevin Horton of the Massachusetts Department of Correction Violent Fugitive Apprehension Unit; Sgt. Joe Pepe of the same unit; Paul Pellegrino of the Massachusetts State Police; and Dottie Evans, a cousin of Jackie Pigott’s.
Those in opposition made statements about Norman that ranged from inaccurate through half true to vicious, ridiculous, and totally untrue. These statements cannot be allowed to stand without comment.
Dottie Johnson, who has been opposing Norman’s release since 1978, said she has a signed confession proving that Norman shot her cousin. What she chose not to say was that the confession was thrown out of court because it was coerced: When Norman kept insisting that he did not shoot Pigott, the arresting officers refused to allow him to see his father or a lawyer and beat him for 48 hours, to the point that one officer told the others to stop.
Ms. Johnson also said that there are eyewitness reports stating that Norman shot Mr. Pigott. She failed to say that there are also eyewitness reports stating that he did not. Nor did Ms. Johnson mention that Norman twice offered to take polygraph exams to establish that he did not shoot Mr. Pigott. Essex County district attorney Kevin Burke refused both offers.
Paul Pellegrino of the Massachusetts State Police stated that “Norman took two lives,” completely ignoring the fact, documented in the film he had just seen, that Edgar Cook, not Norman Porter, shot jailmaster David Robinson when Norman refused to do so.
Sgt. Joe Pepe of the Department of Correction’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Unit stated that in 1980, Norman escaped from Lancaster Pre-Release Center and was gone for three days. Sgt. Pepe failed to say that Norman voluntarily returned to prison after two days (not three). He also failed to note that the escape charges were dismissed at the request of the DOC, which cited mitigating circumstances. One of these circumstances: Doctors expected that Norman’s seriously ill father would soon die, and prison officials had told Norman they would not grant
him an emergency furlough to attend the funeral. During his two days away from prison, Norman visited his father, made peace with him, and said goodbye to him.
Sgt. Pepe also stated that Norman returned drunk from prison furloughs. In some thousand pages of documentation we have on Norman’s case, we find no record of any such occurrence. We do find a great deal of evidence that Norman completed dozens of furloughs successfully over many years. If Sergeant Pepe has documentary evidence to support his claim, we invite him to send it to us. After confirming that the information is authentic and accurate, we will be happy to post it on our website in the interest of telling Norman’s story accurately.
Sgt. Pepe also stated that while working with the elderly mentally ill at the minimum security Medfield Hospital prison project, Norman sexually abused a young girl. This is a very serious charge of which we have no evidence whatsoever. Again, we invite Sergeant Pepe to send us the documents that support his statement.
Lt. Kevin Horton, retired from the DOC’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Unit, declared that “it doesn’t matter if Norman didn’t pull the trigger.” Lt. Horton ought to know that under our system of law, it certainly does matter. The law recognizes that shooting someone during the commission of a crime and being part of a crime in which someone is shot are both very serious offenses, but the circumstances do not carry the same legal, moral, or ethical weight. The difference is reflected in the sentencing structure. If the DA had been able to prove, during the 1962 trial, that Norman shot Mr. Pigott, Norman would have been charged with first degree murder, which carried the death penalty at that time in Massachusetts. Instead, he was charged with second degree murder and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole and the right to be considered for parole after serving 15 years.
Lt. Horton also stated that an early poem of Norman’s called “The Guy I Killed” proves he was the shooter. Lt. Horton likely did not bother to look into the circumstances surrounding the writing of that poem before deciding that it represents a confession. And he appears to be unaware of poet William Carolos Williams’ observation that “it is difficult to get the news from poems” because poets write in persona and often express emotional and psychological truth, rather than facts. When Norman wrote that poem, he had been in counseling for eleven years, struggling to come to terms with his crimes and to turn his life around. The poem represents a major step in his rehabilitation. It is properly read as an expression of remorse and an acceptance of responsibility for the role he played in the deaths of two people. As he has told us, “I did not pull the trigger, but if I had acted differently, two people might not have died.” We asked “Killer Poet” director Susan Gray to place the poem in its proper context within the film, but she chose not to do so.