Every two weeks for 16 years, Steve and Kathy Porter have left home in Chester for a day trip. It is always the same trip. The trip is to prison.
Prison is where parents go when sons are convicted of murder – even if the murder happened as a teenager and somebody else pulled the trigger.
The Chester County jail is where three Chester teens facing murder-for-hire charges sit, and prison is where each will go if convicted.
“My son is 32 years old, he’s spent half his life in a prison, and he has 14 more years in a prison,” Steve Porter said. “When I read about them three boys in Chester, that’s all I could think about.”
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The three teens – Clayton Eli Watts, Marqueas Buchanan and Shaiderius Cohen – face 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder in the Jan. 29 shooting death of Watts’ grandmother.
Thirty years, just like Justin Porter.
“The families that are dealing with this, they are dealing with the same thing I have dealt with every day for 16 years,” Porter said.
April 13, 1997, 16 years ago Saturday, was the day his son was involved in a brutal killing with a gun. Even if his son didn’t fire the shots, his son was there and involved.
“Half his life exactly – 16 years out of 32 – in jail,” Porter said. “It’s like his life stopped.”
Justin Porter, then 16, was with another teen in a convenience store in Lockhart, in Union County just across the county line from Chester and York counties. A third teen was outside.
The other teen inside with Porter, Wesley Shafer, 19, could be seen on surveillance video shooting the store clerk, a man named Ray Broome from York, in the head.
Broome died April 13, 1997, as his own teenaged son was at the York Comprehensive High School senior prom.
Steve Porter knows all the awful details. He relives them every day of his life.
“Ray Broome didn’t deserve what happened to him,” he said.
Justin Porter and the other two involved in Broome’s murder were almost immediately arrested.
Porter pleaded guilty to murder, and was sentenced to 30 years. Shafer was originally sentenced to death after his conviction, but he’s now serving life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the capital sentence, but not Shafer’s conviction.
The youngest of these teens in the current case, Eli Watts, 17, allegedly hatched the plot to kill his own grandmother, Jimmie Paul, 59. Watts lived with Paul and her husband, Mack Paul, and the plan was to kill them both, police say.
Watts was upset about discipline and teen responsibilities, police say, so he recruited Buchanan and Cohen, the alleged triggerman. The two others were supposed to get $5,000.
All three, though, have given police statements about involvement in the scheme. What remains to shake out now is who did what and what can be proven. All could proclaim innocence or be found not guilty. So far, prosecutors have not had a court hearing to attempt to prove a single allegation.
That will change April 24, when all three are scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause hearing. A magistrate will hear about the brutal crime from police and prosecutors, and from the defendants’’ lawyers, then determine if there is evidence for potential indictments and trials.
Porter read in The Herald this week about how two of the current defendants’ fathers are concerned about the future and how they grieve for Jimmie Paul. He knows the future after a killing, and the grief for the victim – and a father’s undying love even after a horrible crime.
Every two weeks since Justin Porter’s guilty plea – in which he admitted to being in the store, providing the gun and the vehicle used in the crime, court documents show – Steve Porter has visited his son in prison.
“I go and sit with him and buy him something from the vending machines and that is his whole life,” Porter said. “His life is time. Prison means time. He got time. Thirty years of time. If these boys get convicted, they will get time.”
When Shafer pulled that gun in 1997 and shot Ray Broome, Steve Porter said, “everybody’s life changed.”
In January, Jimmie Paul’s life changed. She died from bullets. Three teens are still in jail, awaiting trial, and might be behind bars forever. Life changed for them.
The change for them was not high school graduation or college; as at least two of the current defendants in murder for hire plot wanted. The change was not employment, a family, marriage and kids, holidays, love, joy.
The change is aging and maybe growing old and dying in a prison if convicted – their families forced to deal with all of it.
“I encourage young people all the time to go into the military, that there is something a lot better than Chester County out there,” said Steve Porter, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, now 61 and married to the same woman 40 years.
The Porters have older kids who have had productive lives.
“There is a whole world out there,” Porter said.
But inside a prison, there is nothing but time.
On the state Department of Corrections website, anybody can see a photograph of Justin Porter. Steve Porter sees his son in person every two weeks when he is allowed prison visits, and he looks at that photo all the time on a computer.
“Sixteen years in prison,” Porter said. “Fourteen to go. I will always go see him. He is my son.”
Porter thinks about teens and guns and crime and violence.
He thinks about brutality that can be avoided and prisons that can be avoided and families’ anguish that can be avoided if teens stop committing gun crimes.
Then he prepares to go see his son again in prison.