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Hints at strategy come out in hit-and-run case

Prosecutors say a sort of insanity defense could be in the works for the dance teacher accused of killing two Tampa children.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Published June 17, 2005

TAMPA - Clues to a possible defense strategy for Jennifer Porter emerged during a brief but tense exchange between a prosecutor and a defense attorney Thursday.

Porter, 29, is charged with leaving the scene of an accident in a hit-and-run crash that killed two young boys in Tampa. Defense attorneys for the dance teacher told Hillsborough Circuit Judge E. Lamar Battles they're on track with their preparations for Porter's trial in October.

Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Kim Seace accused Porter's attorneys of dragging their feet on producing a list of expert witnesses who could be called in the case. Making reference to a doctor from Boston who had been called as a witness, Seace said Porter's defense team could try to mount "some sort of mental health, almost insanity defense."

"Not a single one of their experts is in (the witness list), which is going to make it impossible for me to prepare for this case," Seace said.

Lyann Goudie, co-counsel in Porter's defense, dismissed the suggestion, saying that it's not uncommon for attorneys to question potential witnesses past the deadline set for trial preparations.

"Nobody's planning on surprising the state or sandbagging the state," Goudie said.

Porter was arrested last spring, after eyewitnesses told investigators they saw a silver Toyota Echo matching the description of her car hit four children in North Tampa. Bryant Wilkins, 13, his sister Aquina, now 9, and their brothers Durontae Caldwell, 3, and LaJuan Davis, now 3, were crossing at 22nd Street and 142nd Avenue on the evening of March 31, 2004, when they were hit. Bryant and Durontae died the same day.

Barry Cohen, Porter's lead defense attorney in the case, would not comment on whether he has outlined a mental health defense.

"We have and will continue to comply with all procedural requirements of the law," Cohen said in a statement issued through a spokesman.

[Last modified June 17, 2005, 00:57:00]


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