Porter's attorney defends sentence

Published November 9, 2005

TAMPA - Jennifer Porter's courtroom battle may be finished, but the fight over her case continues.

Four days after a Hillsborough judge sentenced the former teacher to house arrest and probation for her role in an accident that left two children dead, Porter's attorney, Barry Cohen, disputed the suggestion that the ruling was racially motivated. Cohen said Tuesday he's concerned some had misinterpreted the facts in Porter's case, and took shots at those who suggested Porter should have received a harsher sentence or been charged with vehicular homicide.

"The educated people in this community - the African-American lawyers, for instance - would understand why this is not vehicular homicide," Cohen said.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles on Saturday convicted Porter, 29, of leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

The crash killed a 13-year-old and 3-year-old and injured their two siblings.

The children's mother, Lisa Wilkins, said she thought race was a factor in the judge's decision. Battles' ruling provoked strong criticism from nearly a dozen members of the Uhuru Movement who protested outside the courthouse Monday.

Cohen said he was sympathetic to Wilkins' grief, but raised questions about her allowing the children to go to the recreation center unescorted. Wilkins' attorney, Tom Parnell, said he thought Porter's sentence was fair. He took issue, however, with Cohen's swipe at Wilkins' parenting skills.