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Former pastor accused of killing man to get his millions

By Olivia Munoz

Associated Press

FRESNO — A preacher was arrested at the Mexican border and accused of deliberately crashing his pickup truck and killing an 85-year-old farmer in a scheme to get his hands on the man’s multimillion-dollar trust fund.

Howard Douglas Porter, 55, of La Grange, was being held without bail Wednesday in San Diego on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and embezzlement from an elderly person.

Porter headed the Hickman Community Church, a nondenominational Christian church, when he befriended Frank Craig, a resident of the town of 450 people about 110 miles east of San Francisco.

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Craig, who had about $4 million in stocks and real estate left to him when his brother died, had asked Porter to help him build a museum to house the farm equipment he had collected, said sheriff’s Deputy Royjindar Singh.

Eventually, Porter was named trustee of Craig’s trust, and the church was named as heir, Craig’s family told authorities.

Porter spent money on museum plans, but nothing was built, authorities said.

Investigators said they believe Porter first tried to kill Craig in 2002 when he veered his truck off a rural road and struck an oak tree. The crash crippled Craig, but did not initially raise suspicions.

In 2004, Porter plunged his pickup truck into an irrigation canal and Craig drowned, Singh said. Porter walked away from both crashes, and gave the eulogy at Craig’s funeral.

"The first crash we had investigated as an accident," Singh said. "But after the second one, the family came to us and said there was something more going on."

The case languished as prosecutors focused on convicting Scott Peterson and sending him to death row for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci. Porter resigned as pastor last year as suspicions about him mounted.

Porter was arrested Monday at the San Ysidro border station as he returned from Mexico, where he was starting a new mission, Singh said.

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Porter’s lawyer, Robert Orenstein, did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday. Nor did the church or Porter’s wife.

Associated Press writer Garance Burke contributed to this story.

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