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Former Fugitive, 'Killer Poet,' Denied Parole

This article is more than 10 years old.
Norman Porter, second from left, listens to his lawyer during his arraignment in Dedham Superior Court in Dedham in March 2005. Porter's whereabouts had been a mystery to police since he walked away from a pre-release center in December 1985. He was arrested in Chicago after a tipster told police that Porter was living there. (AP)
Norman Porter, second from left, listens to his lawyer during his arraignment in Dedham Superior Court in Dedham in March 2005. Porter's whereabouts had been a mystery to police since he walked away from a pre-release center in December 1985. He was arrested in Chicago after a tipster told police that Porter was living there. (AP)

Norman Porter, a convicted murderer from Woburn who became a fugitive poet in Chicago and then won wide support as a model for personal reformation, will remain behind bars.

The state denied Porter's request for parole Monday, WBUR has learned.

Porter is serving a life sentence for the 1960 murder of John Piggot, a 22-year-old store clerk, during an armed robbery in Saugus.

"Now we have five years that we don't have to worry about Norman Porter," said Nancy Bray, whose mother was engaged to Piggot when he was killed.

Porter also was convicted in the 1961 murder of a prison guard during an attempted jailbreak in East Cambridge. Gov. Michael Dukakis commuted that sentence in 1975, based on testimony that it was Porter's accomplice, not Porter, who shot and killed the guard.

After spending 25 years in prison, Porter escaped from a pre-release center in 1985 and lived as a fugitive in Chicago for 20 years, where he assumed the name J. J. Jameson.

"It went from fighting to find him, to now we've caught him but now we've got to fight to get his parole denied," Bray said. "He's finally going to serve the time that he should have been serving all along for the 20 years he was in Chicago."

The board's decision follows a hearing in October, which brought friends and families of Porter's victims up against his large group of backers.

The Friends of Norman Porter, a group that includes ministers, attorneys and a psychologist, says Porter used his time as a fugitive to reform himself. He became a well-known poet and church leader who engaged in local politics and worked as a handyman.

Rev. Steve M. Wilson, of Braintree's All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, met Porter when he worked at the same Chicago church where Porter was a regular lecturer.

"I count (Porter) as a friend and trust him," Wilson said. "I've seen him do so many kind acts that it feels very distant from a person who seemingly committed those crimes back when he was 18 or 19 years old."

Police re-captured Porter in Chicago in 2005 on a tip from someone in Massachusetts. He remains imprisoned in Shirley.

Wilson contends Porter has earned his way out.

"Short of walking out of prison when he felt he could never be released, he's lived an exemplary life for the last 40 years," Wilson said. "If prison is designed to reform people, he would be a classic example of what reform looks like."

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This program aired on January 11, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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