They had been over the photographs of the interior of the house in west Fort Worth. The spot on the floor from which Diane Porter watched as her husband was beaten with the legs of a cocktail table and shot in the head. The broader view of the hallway where she was down on her stomach after she, too, was shot.
Laden with unease, it was a standard trial exchange between a victim-witness and the defense during cross-examination. At times, Porter’s responses from the stand were tinged with irritation and at others she appeared exasperated.
But James Floyd Jr., who was lobbing queries in a courtroom on Thursday afternoon, is not a lawyer. He is the defendant, the person who Porter said is responsible for violently disrupting her life. Beyond firing a handgun upon her husband, Floyd shot her in the abdomen and made a perfunctory attempt at tying her wrists with an alarm clock cord, Porter said.
Floyd is representing himself in an aggravated robbery trial that began last week in Fort Worth.
The defendant pulled a billfold from John Porter’s back pocket, Porter’s wife testified.
“After you shot John you wanted to know where the debit card was,” she said, accusing Floyd directly and departing from his use of the terms assailant and intruder to refer to the person law enforcement authorities allege is Floyd.
Before he left the house in the couple’s Kia Sorento, Floyd said that he would return and kill her if the PIN she gave him to use with the card did not work, Porter testified.
Nine days after he was shot on March 28, 2017, John Porter died. Diane Porter made it out of the hospital. They both were 69.
By day, Floyd is applying, with some difficulty, jurisprudence in a suit and tie on the seventh floor of the downtown Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center. He is doing his best to suggest to jurors holes or misstatements in testimony. At night, he sleeps at a Tarrant County jail.
At once a defendant and defender, Floyd chose to take control of the effort to win the case.
He has stumbled at times. Floyd, early on, referred to an incorrect date for the crimes and appeared not to know the procedure to properly offer exhibits. In custody and without a word processor, his motions are handwritten on lined paper. At some moments in his legal foray, Floyd appears to be engaged more in an imitation or performance of an attorney rather than operating as a genuine, smooth litigator.
Still, Floyd has made sound arguments and is getting by at the trial over which Senior District Judge Bob Brotherton is presiding as a visiting judge.
At the defense table with Floyd in 396th District Court are two lawyers who serve as standby counsel. Veteran defense attorney Miles Brissette’s legal skills have largely not been in use at this trial. Instead, Brissette has been ferrying exhibits around the courtroom and operating a projector. At least once, it was his duty to flip a switch to dim the lights.
Brissette’s role handling exhibits also meant that Floyd and Diane Porter were never physically in contact. Instead, the attorney handed to the witness photos of the floors of her house pocked with markers of shell casings and an unfired cartridge.
Warren St. John is also serving as standby counsel and assisting Floyd.
Once when questioning Porter, language tripped Floyd.
“After the defendant, er, after the assailant … “ he began a question.
As they worked to select a jury last week, Floyd and Assistant Criminal District Attorney Lisa Callaghan, who is prosecuting the case with Art Clayton, probed for sources of bias and vacation plans that would distract jury service.
One at a time, Floyd asked people on a panel of potential jurors questions, including whether they wanted to serve.
A man who ultimately was not selected suggested to Floyd that his decision to represent himself was misguided.
“You’re a very intelligent person. I just don’t think it’s going to work for you,” the man said.
“Thank you for your candor,” Floyd responded before moving on.
In his opening statement, Floyd forecast to jurors a defense that he said will demonstrate a conspiracy to falsely implicate him in the crime. He said that a law enforcement officer had taken hair from Floyd’s vehicle and placed it in the Porters’ vehicle. The “real criminals,” Floyd said, were Callaghan and district attorney’s office colleagues who worked with Fort Worth police homicide Detective Jerry Cedillo to fabricate physical evidence.
“I elected to represent myself because I knew I was innocent,” he told the jury. Most defendants with the same assessment choose to have an attorney handle their defense. Self-representation in felony criminal cases is rarely successful and often disastrous.
Callaghan said in an opening statement that the crime had been a nightmare. Southwestern Bell retirees, the Porters were planning to leave their house in the 10200 block of Cool Spring Drive for a shopping trip at midday when Floyd arrived and began first to struggle with John Porter, she said.
The state will offer DNA evidence from a hair that connects Floyd to the crime, Callaghan said. Police found, about a half-mile to a mile from the Porters’ house, Floyd’s Ford Focus with a flat tire. The state will also present cellphone information that links them, she said. Diane Porter selected Floyd’s photo from among others in a spread prepared by police, Callaghan said.
Once she heard their sport utility vehicle start and leave the garage, Porter testified that she crawled along a hall to reach a landline telephone in the kitchen. She reached to it and dialed 911. A recording of the conversation was played for jurors.
“John, can you hear me?” Porter called to her husband.
“Oh God. I don’t want him to come back,” she said as she waited for police to arrive.
Floyd attempted to use the debit card at a bank about 70 miles east of Fort Worth in Terrell, where Floyd lived, prosecutors allege. (Porter testified that she invented a number and did not offer the correct PIN).
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office had sought the death penalty for Floyd in a related capital murder indictment in John Porter’s death. The office in January waived the death penalty.
In the robbery case, if it finds Floyd guilty, the jury will consider a prison term of five to 99 years or life. If it finds that Floyd is a repeat offender, it will decide on a sentence of 15 to 99 years or life. Floyd was convicted in 1983 of aggravated rape and aggravated robbery in Kaufman County.
Floyd had no connection to the Porters.
On the morning of the shootings and robbery, Floyd, then 50, had been at the nearby residence of a man with whom he had been having a sexual relationship for several months, according to the affidavit supporting a warrant for Floyd’s arrest.
Floyd asked to use the man’s cellphone, but he declined because Floyd had arrived without permission. A short time later, according to the affidavit, Floyd entered the Porters’ house.
With Floyd’s name from the disabled Ford’s registration, police arrested him in Terrell on the day of the shootings on a warrant connected to a Dallas kidnapping. The Porters’ Kia was found at an apartment complex in Terrell, according to the affidavit.
John Porter’s death was explained to the jury, but that element of the case is not a focus of the trial.
As it considers a matter that an appointed counsel for Floyd has filed, the Second Court of Appeals issued an opinion on March 25 that upended the plan to pursue the capital murder case at trial at the same time as the aggravated robbery case.
Floyd has sought the appellate court review of a trial court order denying Floyd’s claim that a second capital murder trial would violate his double jeopardy rights.
In 2020, after a jury had been impaneled and sworn, the court ordered a mistrial because the jury had been reduced to 10 jurors.
The aggravated robbery trial is expected to continue for much of April.