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Ex-Pastor Pleads Not Guilty to Murder

A former pastor accused of killing an elderly friend to get at his trust fund pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and embezzlement Monday.
( [email protected] ) Dec 12, 2006 12:31 PM EST

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) - A former pastor accused of killing an elderly friend to get at his trust fund pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and embezzlement Monday.

Howard Douglas Porter, 55, is being held without bail in the Stanislaus County jail, said Deputy District Attorney John Goold.

Porter was arrested two weeks ago at a U.S-Mexico border checkpoint. Investigators said he caused two car accidents, the latter killing 85-year-old Frank Craig, in a scheme to inherit the retired farmer's trust fund.

Craig had asked Porter to help him build an agriculture-themed museum with his $4 million estate, and by 1999, the Hickman Community Church pastor had control of Craig's finances, Craig family members said. The trust was changed to replace Craig's two sisters with Porter as the successor trustee and the church as the new heir, they 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 April 2004, Porter plunged his pickup truck into an irrigation canal, and the farmer drowned. Porter, who walked away from both wrecks, gave the eulogy at Craig's funeral.

No date has been set for a preliminary hearing, Goold said.

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