Originally created 06/19/00

Mother seeks some closure in son's death



Every day, Kathy Porter waits for justice, the pain deepening, burning in that place inside that only a parent whose child has died has the misfortune of knowing.

A year ago this month, she thought the waiting was finally over when a Richmond County grand jury indicted William "Junior" Downs on charges of murder. Police told Ms. Porter that Mr. Downs had confessed not only to killing 6-year-old Keenan O'Mailia in North Augusta on April 17, 1999, but also to doing the same to her son, 10-year-old James Porter, in March 1991.

The Richmond County indictment was swiftly returned and filed in the clerk's office, along with the prosecution's formal notice that Mr. Downs, now 33, would face the possibility of death if convicted of James' slaying.

A year has passed, and Mr. Downs has not even been arraigned in Richmond County Superior Court. The extradition papers have not been filed with Gov. Roy Barnes to request his transfer from an Aiken jail to Augusta.

"I don't understand why they can't get somebody to just go right over the bridge to bring him over here," Ms. Porter said.

She reads every word and listens to every broadcast mentioning Mr. Downs. The last newspaper mention, on April 16, was that Mr. Downs was supposed to stand trial in the fall in Aiken County for Keenan's slaying.

Before that, Mr. Downs was supposed to be in Richmond County in September 1999. Then he was supposed to be tried in Aiken in spring2000, then in the summer. The latest word: The Aiken trial might be in spring 2001.

Ms. Porter doesn't care where he stands trial first; she just wants the trial concerning her son's killing to be over so she has closure.

"I wouldn't keep going over it again and again," she said.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig said he is ready to try Mr. Downs for James' slaying and has been ready for some time.

"Honest to God, this case could be on the fast track to trial if we could get the defendant," Mr. Craig said.

He had asked an assistant last month to file the paperwork for Mr. Downs' extradition. Mr. Craig said last week he was not sure why Mr. Barnes had not received the request.

Georgia is not prohibited from asking for Mr. Downs' extradition just because Mr. Downs is also awaiting trial on capital murder charges in Aiken County. But South Carolina could refuse to turn him over, Mr. Craig said.

Eight years passed before anyone believed her that James was a homicide victim, not an accidental drowning victim.

Ms. Porter outlined police accusations she faced in 1991 after James disappeared on the way to the store to buy milk for a baby sister: She had sold him for $10,000 or James was kidnapped by the person who sold her drugs and wanted payments.

Even her little brother apologized after Mr. Downs confessed last year, Ms. Porter said. Her brother also harbored suspicions that she was involved in James' death, she said.

"If they (the police) had done their jobs, the little O'Mailia boy wouldn't be dead," Ms. Porter said. Family, friends and even strangers led the search for James after he disappeared from his Greene Street home, Ms. Porter said. "If he had been one of their (officers') kids or a rich kid they would have been all over the place. But since it was a kid of a poor (woman) like me, they didn't care."

James' body was found in the Savannah River nine days after he disappeared. His death was ruled accidental. Ms. Porter never accepted that. James was terrified of water, never even took a bath in water deeper than his ankles, she said. She wasn't allowed to see the body.

"For eight years I hoped and prayed he was still in this world somewhere, until (Mr.) Downs told what happened," Ms. Porter said. "I know at least he's with God.

"But the hurting never goes away. There ain't a day that goes by that I don't think of him, what he would be like today, what he would look like, what he would do .ƒ.ƒ. I think he would be an artist."

The confession gave her some closure, but Ms. Porter said she believes a trial would provide a real ending point, even if the hole left in her soul remains forever.

But now, what Mr. Downs said he did to James is nearly a mantra for Ms. Porter. She knows because the police told her everything Mr. Downs said happened, she said.

"The longer the wait, the worse the hurt that is coming. It just drags on and on and drags so much pain back up."

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.