After 15-hour hearing, no jail time for Porter
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an Associated Press report 11/05/05
related story: Tears, fireworks at Jennifer Porter's sentencing hearing (11/04/05)
Jennifer Porter listens to testimony during the 15-hour-long hearing Friday.
TAMPA - A former elementary school dance teacher was sentenced to two years of house arrest early Saturday for speeding away after a car hit and killed two young brothers.
Jennifer Porter pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the March 2004 accident that killed Bryant Wilkins, 13, and his 3-year-old brother Durontae Caldwell. An 8-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother were injured.
Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles said he weighed Porter's clean police record and the "extreme trauma" she endured during the crime in sentencing her to "community custody," which he described as "a stricter form of probation "” essentially house arrest."
Porter was also sentenced to three years probation, 500 hours of community service benefiting children and psychiatric treatment.
She could have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted at trial, and was previously offered a plea deal that would have sent her to prison for three years. But her attorney said Porter decided to plead guilty and hoped the judge would impose a lighter sentence.
During a long sentencing hearing, the boys' mother, Lisa Wilkins, sobbed and urged state Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles to sentence Porter to the maximum three years.
"I want her to be punished," Wilkins said. "I want her to go to prison. I want her to see what it's like to lose someone."
Wilkins declined comment after the sentence was handed down at about 1:30 a.m. "” as did prosecutor Kim Seace and Porter's attorney, Barry Cohen.
Porter is white and her victims were black, and some in the black community say she has been treated leniently because of her race and economic background.
The children were struck by Porter as they returned home from a community center near the newly opened elementary school where Porter was working.
She drove to her parents' home and did not come forward for five days. She said a white van had struck the children first, throwing them into her car, but investigators concluded the van was not involved.
She has said she did not stop because she was too scared.
Medical examiner reports said the boys died instantly. Witnesses said the 3-year-old was dragged about 150 feet.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office received some complaints that Porter was not facing more serious charges. But officials said to warrant a vehicular homicide charge, prosecutors would have had to prove at least two violations, other than leaving the scene.
Investigators estimated that she was driving 6 to 10 mph over the posted 30 mph speed limit, but they could not find a second traffic violation.