Teen found guilty of capital murder

Lauderdale County jury reaches verdict in two hours

PASCAGOULA

Terry Hye Jr. told supporters to “come see him soon” before authorities escorted him out of a Jackson County courtroom Friday to begin serving a life sentence for his role in the October 2008 robbery and shooting death of Hattiesburg resident Michael David Porter.

One of his supporters left the courtroom as soon as she heard a Lauderdale County jury confirm that it had convicted Hye, now 18, of capital murder in the Oct. 23, 2008, slaying at the Conoco gas station and convenience store off Mississippi 63 in Moss Point.

Circuit Court Judge Dale Harkey just moments before had warned those in attendance to refrain from any outbursts or he would have them removed from the courtroom and arrested. The out-of-town jury deliberated for less than two hours before reaching their verdict.

Michael Porter’s sister-in-law, Tawnya Clark, had her arm around her sister, Linda Bell Porter, as she waited to hear if the jury believed her eyewitness account of how she watched her husband, 44, try to fight off two teens, later identified as Hye and co-defendant Telvin James Benjamin, before the shooter, Darwin “D.J.” Wells, pulled out a .38-caliber handgun and shot him to death. Porter’s mother, Beverly Porter, sat with them, tears swelling in her eyes as she awaited the jury’s response.

Afterwards, Linda Porter said she was pleased that the jury considered all the evidence and decided to convict Hye of capital murder, something a South Mississippi jury in the capital murder trial of Wells was unable to do in October 2009, opting instead to convict him of a reduced charge of murder by deliberate design. As a result, Wells is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Hye does not have the option of an early release.

“I think the jury did a great job in putting their own vices and feelings aside and using their good judgment to make a decision,” Linda Porter said. “I appreciate them considering all the facts and sifting through it to make the right decision, whether they felt sorry for him because he was young or felt sympathy for him because he wasn’t in school and didn’t seem to have a good role model.”

Porter and his wife stopped at the store that night to ask for directions to Linda Porter’s grandson’s football game.

Hye took the stand in his own defense Thursday, denying any involvement and offering his sympathy to Linda Porter for her loss before saying, “I did not kill your husband.” Hye speculated that Linda Porter was so distraught at the time of the shooting that she didn’t clearly remember what she’d witnessed.

Linda Porter said she took great offense to Hye’s suggestion that she was too distraught to remember the details surrounding her husband’s death.

“I will never forget what I saw that night,” she said.

Porter, a tugboat captain, paint contractor and Marine for 14 years, died within minutes of being shot.

The jury believed Linda Porter’s testimony in conjunction with other evidence Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence and Assistant District Attorney Bobby Knochel presented at trial.

Hye claimed he was not on the store property at the time of the shooting but was on the street and basically blamed Wells, now 17, for the entire ordeal, saying Wells repeatedly said that day that he planned to “hit a lick,” or rob someone. He said he thought Wells meant he was planning to sell some drugs.

Hye did place Benjamin, now 15, on the store property. He said he took off running with another man, who has since served an 11-month sentence on an accessory charge.

Hye and other witnesses said Wells was trying to “hit a lick” that day so he could get enough money to go the Jackson County Fair the week of the murder. He said each of them had spent the day smoking marijuana, though at one point he slipped and said it was actually cocaine, before walking to and from stores in search of food or someone old enough to buy them cigarettes.

Linda Porter said she has since received a letter from Wells, asking that she write District Attorney Lawrence to see about having the murder charge against him reduced.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “He said he wasn’t guilty and that he was sorry and high on drugs. Then finally, he said he found God and that he was saved and a born again person. He wanted to know if I’d please give him a second chance.

“I did not respond.”

Porter said she continues to have nightmares about what happened the night her husband died. She said she also dreams that he’s still here, and she can’t find him. “I’ll dream that he’s home, and I’ll just be hugging him, and I say, ‘Where have you been?’ When I wake up, I know he’s gone.”

Porter offered a message to Hye as well.

“You say you are sorry for my loss and for what happened to my husband,” she said. “Well, I’m sorry you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life in prison when you really didn’t have to, just as I’m sorry my husband had to die when he didn’t have to. I don’t care who you are. You have to be responsible for what you do.”

Porter will return to South Mississippi in May for Benjamin’s capital murder trial before another out-of-town jury.

Defense attorneys Arthur Carlisle and Wendy Martin expressed disappointment Friday.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” Carlisle said, “but something did.”

By MARGARET BAKER – mbbaker@sunherald.com
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