A mistrial was declared in Anthony R. Porter's murder case in Niagara County Court on Tuesday when prosecutors learned that their star witness had suffered a broken neck in an auto accident.
Jessica McClendon, identified by defense attorney Angelo Musitano as Porter's former girlfriend, also suffered fractures to her arms, a leg and a foot.
First Assistant District Attorney Timothy R. Lundquist said that the accident occurred Oct. 12 but that he did not learn of it until late Monday afternoon, when he returned to his office after the first day of jury selection and found a fax from McClendon's doctor declaring she would be unable to testify for four to six weeks.
Judge Peter L. Broderick Sr. declared a mistrial and rescheduled the case for Feb. 7. Porter, 29, of 80th Street, Niagara Falls, is accused of stabbing Sherree C. Mallory, 30, to death in the stairwell of her Fifth Street apartment house Oct. 25, 2003.
Four jurors had been chosen Monday, and selection was to resume Tuesday morning, but the pool of about 40 prospective jurors was kept in a holding room for 90 minutes until Broderick approved the mistrial and called the jurors to court to give them an explanation.
"(Porter) made admissions to the woman who was in the auto accident," Broderick said. Lundquist declined to discuss McClendon's prospective testimony.
Musitano refused the option of going to McClendon's Niagara Falls home with Lundquist for videotaped questioning that would have been played to a jury in the trial. He said cross-examination is much more effective live.
Broderick told the jury pool that there was other evidence against Porter besides what he allegedly told McClendon.
"There was DNA," Broderick said. "He was covered with blood when the police found him, and it turned out to be the victim's blood."
The judge continued, "The defense position was self-defense, although there were multiple stab wounds (56, according to an autopsy). One of the other issues in the case was that the victim was a crack dealer, and drugs were obviously an issue."
Police said they found 22.2 grams of crack cocaine and some cash on Mallory's body. They speculated that the stabbing might have stemmed from a drug-related robbery attempt.