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Murder case spurs calls for legal reform - abc27 WHTM

Murder case spurs calls for legal reform

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Dajuan Porter Dajuan Porter
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

The murder arrest of a Harrisburg man already facing trial on sex crimes has shed new light on an old problem with Pennsylvania's criminal justice system, and prosecutors and advocates are encouraging lawmakers to finally act.

Dajuan Porter, 29, was arrested Tuesday for fatally stabbing 87-year-old Joyce Roth in a Derry Township home on June 10. Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said Porter was looking for his accuser in a sexual assault case, who previously lived at the address.

Marsico said Porter on the morning of the murder also set fire to the Lower Paxton Township home of another man who was to testify against him.

Porter had been arrested by Harrisburg police in August for allegedly going into men's homes and performing sexual acts on them as they slept. Authorities said five men have come forward with allegations against him, but Porter was free on unsecured bail when he allegedly killed Roth.

Marsico called it a "troubled case" that "strikes at the heart of the justice system."

Jennifer Storm, director of the Dauphin County Victims/Witness Assistance Program, said changes to strengthen Pennsylvania law should start with a look at bail conditions.

"Where we have not only 'can bail be set?' but automatic bail conditions to provide for no contact with the victims," Storm said. "It seems like a no-brainer, but it's not."

Pennsylvania's district judges currently determine bail on a case-by-case basis without a state standard for amounts and guidelines.

Sex crime prosecutor Sean McCormack said bail should be a balance of civil rights and public safety. Currently, only homicide has standard bail guidelines, but McCormack believes sex crimes are just as heinous.

"There should at least be a bail set, and it should be a bail that takes into consideration the seriousness of the offense," he said.

It is up to state lawmakers to debate and ultimately change the laws. abc27 News called several legislators and the state attorney general's office, but no one wanted to comment.

Storm pointed to Senate Bill 681, which recently passed the House. The legislation would allow all victims of sex crimes to seek protection services, not just family members and intimate partners of the accused.

McCormack said one more immediate change the legislature could adopt is civil commitment, where a hearing determines whether an offender is ready to return to society at the end of their prison term. Twenty states, including Pennsylvania, have laws that prohibit civil commitment in sex crime cases.

According to several legal websites, one argument against civil commitment is double jeopardy, where a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

According to Storm, as high-profile sex abuse cases continue to arise in Pennsylvania, lawmakers will face mounting pressure. She wants state lawmakers to finally face the social stigma and have an open debate about sexual violence and public safety.

"I'm grateful the dialogue is being open," said Storm. "Now we just have to get the proper awareness and education out there so people really, truly understand the crime for what it is."

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