The Iowa Court of Appeals has ordered two convictions against a Burlington man be dismissed. The three judge panel described the evidence presented against Wilson Porter, Jr. as "purely circumstantial."
Porter was arrested in connection with a house fire on Dec. 20, 2013. Authorities said Porter was manufacturing meth in the room he and his girlfriend, Michelle Whitmore, were renting when there was an explosion.
The owner of the home testified at trial that he saw Porter in the doorway to the room he rented, which was on fire. During the investigation into the fire, the fire marshal deemed it suspicious. Authorities said extensive meth-making materials were found in the room.
A jury found Porter guilty of manufacturing meth and arson. He was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
Porter appealed his convictions, claiming the state failed to show he "actually intended to manufacture methamphetamine and engaged in the manufacture of methamphetamine." He claimed the state's evidence could apply equally to his girlfriend.
The Court of Appeals agreed with Porter.
"We conclude the State failed to present to the jury sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Porter manufactured the methamphetamine found in the bedroom. The evidence tying Porter to the manufacture of methamphetamine as a principal was purely circumstantial."
The three judge panel went on to say:
"The jury could have rationally found Whitmore and Porter resided in the bedroom where an explosion and fire broke out; both Whitmore and Porter were in the house when the fire broke out; a methamphetamine lab was discovered in an open and obvious position in the bedroom; the bedroom window was open on a cold December evening; Porter was seen carrying a large fan out of the house after the fire erupted; when Whitmore and Porter were at the house, they stayed in the bedroom with the door closed; and Whitmore and Porter took out the garbage (in which remnants from cooking methamphetamine were later discovered) separately from the rest of the household garbage."
The Court of Appeals ruling essentially negated a second appeal filed by Porter.
That appeal related to his second arrest for manufacturing meth in Dec. 2013. He pleaded guilty this time and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
Porter said his plea agreement called for the sentences to run concurrently, but the judge who delivered the sentence ordered they run consecutively, which Porter appealed.
The Court of Appeals said since the convictions on meth manufacturing and arson were overturned, Porter would no longer be serving consecutive sentences, so his appeal was moot.