Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Idaho

Stabbed, shot, left for dead
Angel on her shoulder

Susan Drumheller
Staff writer

photo
- The Spokesman-Review
Diane Griffiths tells of being shot an stabbed by her ex-husband. ``He's a sick man and we need to catch him,'' she says.

SANDPOINT _ Diane Griffiths carries an angel on her shoulder and a gun on her hip.

She sleeps with the weapon, just in case the angel nods off and her ex-husband returns.

Griffiths survived a two-hour beating, two stab wounds to the neck and a gunshot wound to the head last month. She lay on the bloody floor of her fifth-wheel travel trailer, expecting to die, for 18 torturous hours.

A Bonner County judge has issued an arrest warrant for her ex-husband, 66-year-old Larry Porter. The charge is attempted murder.

He was last seen in St. Maries on Friday, but by the time deputies arrived, he had escaped. Griffiths said he vowed not to be taken alive by police as he prepared to kill her.

"He's a sick man and we need to catch him," Griffiths said in an interview Monday.

Griffiths owns and operates the Wheel People RV Park in Westmond. She met Porter, a retired plumber, a couple years ago when he came to do some repairs for a friend. He asked her out to
dinner.

"And something about him, I just didn't want to go and I said `No', and I made an excuse," Griffiths recalled.

He persisted and Griffiths relented. They were married four months later.

After the wedding, Porter started controlling his wife and isolating her from her friends and family. Griffiths learned of his dark side, she said.

"Two months into the marriage, after he slapped me around, I realized this was not a good situation," she said.

One day, he became enraged when she took a phone call from a male friend. Porter beat her until she collapsed, trapped in a corner, Griffiths said.

Griffiths then moved back to her fifth-wheel trailer next door to her 92-year-old mother in the RV park. The marriage ended about 10 months later, after another beating on New Year's Eve and after she convinced her husband he should divorce her, she said.

"I told people I've never been as scared of someone as this man, and they said, `Why don't you leave him?' But how do you do something like that?" Griffiths asked.

Griffiths tried leaving the relationship in slow, subtle steps. She kept him out of her home and shop as much as possible.

In January, after the divorce, Porter became enraged when he realized that Griffiths had locked him out of her trailer. He tried to break in with a splitting maul, court records say.

Griffiths was inside and called the cops. Porter was handcuffed and jailed. He bailed out, and the aggravated assault charge was downgraded to malicious injury to property.

The change was partially because of a letter Griffiths wrote to the prosecutor, asking that Porter get help instead of jail time. She didn't want to aggravate him any more by pursuing the charge, she said.

Griffiths helped Porter move to a home in Hot Springs, Mont.

Then she put a block on her phone so she couldn't get any of his calls. "I'm sure that made him furious," she said. "He realized I alienated him."

She did get his cell phone calls, and one recent Sunday -- Aug. 11 -- Porter called from Sandpoint, where his pickup had broken down.

Griffiths helped him get parts and then towed his pickup to her place so he could work on it. He fixed the truck that afternoon, but then settled in to stay the night. Griffiths didn't want him to stay.

About 9 p.m., when Porter was on the phone with his son, Louis, Griffiths recalled, "I hollered across the room, I said, `Louis, he needs to come up and spend the night at your house."'

Then she saw the look: lips set in a straight line, a crazed glare in the eyes, she said.

"Usually I'd get a two-second warning; I'd see that look in his eyes and I knew he was crazy. But he hung that phone up and just started swinging at me," she said.

He beat her with the broken legs of a table, and she took a few swings at him with a small plastic vacuum cleaner. When he choked her, she bit him. He pulled out handfuls of hair, she said.

"Instinct told me not to hurt him so bad that it would give him an excuse to hurt me worse," she said. He fractured a bone in her face and broke two of her fingers.

After two hours of violence, she lay on the floor, aware she had a head injury. They talked. He had ripped off her dress, so he got her a blanket, a pillow and ibuprofen.

Then he found the kitchen knives, she said.

"I was begging. I told him, `All this is is a black eye so far. Just leave. ... Your son doesn't want a murderer for a father'," she recalled. "But I could tell he'd already made his mind up and was going to kill me."

Porter did a dance over Griffiths, slicing the air with this knife. He told her he'd stab her in the morning, she said.

"So I laid on my back all night. Every time he'd come close to me, I'd put up my legs and my arms, so he couldn't stab me in the gut," she said. "It had to be the longest night of my life."

He tried to get her to overdose on ibuprofen, she said, but she dumped most of the medication down the heat vent and said, "You're going to have to look me in the eye to kill me."

In the morning, she said he threw a towel over her face and stabbed her in the neck, twice. But she didn't die.

With two hands, she pulled the knife out of her neck. Then she lay there, expecting to bleed to death.

"Time went by, and time went by, and I never did bleed to death," she said. "He said, `You better hurry up and die or I'm going to have to shoot you."'

By late afternoon Aug. 12, Porter decided to get his bag of guns. He picked one, and Griffiths could hear him loading it, she said.

"I wasn't panicking. I knew I was going to die," she said. "I remember him coming over and putting the gun to my head. I remember hearing the gun and smelling the gun smoke, but nothing happened."

The gun misfired. He tried again, and it misfired again.

So Porter got another gun, she said.

This time, it worked.

"That one hit so hard I remember screaming and putting my hands up to the sides of my head," she said. "I right away realized I better be quiet so I put my hands down and played dead.

"It hit so hard that my brain lit up. I could see inside my head. My brain's all yellow-like, around the edges, you know, how the brain looks."

Porter, who Griffiths described as squeamish about blood, had covered her with a blanket and couldn't see her breathe. She held her breath when he came close.

He did some housecleaning, and took the garbage out, she said. "Obsessive compulsive," Griffiths said.

Finally, he took her two dogs and left, she said.

"That was probably the longest five minutes of my whole life, wondering whether to get up now, or wondering if he was peeking in the window to see if I've moved," she said.

She slowly got up, and walked out of her trailer to her mother's place next door. She was a frightful sight; naked, bruised, hair matted with blood and one eye swollen shut.

A neighbor heard her yelling for help, rushed over and called 911.

Porter, Griffiths suspects, hid out that night in the woods near his son's house. She fears he strangled her Dachshund, Scatter, to keep him from giving up his hiding place to a sheriff's emergency response team on the prowl.

The first time she cried since the Aug. 11 beating, Griffiths said, was while looking for Scatter at the animal shelter. He wasn't there.

Griffiths spent five days at Kootenai Medical Center, with a guard at her door.

The bullet didn't pierce her skull, but flattened like a nickel. Doctors had to insert a metal plate in her face, and sew up the jugular vein in her neck.

She credits her survival to the angel sitting on her shoulder.

"It was definitely more than one miracle," she said. "The bullet should have got me. The cut jugular vein should have got me. The doctor said the beating should have got me."

Now, she just wants the law to get Porter.

Last week, he reportedly was staying with an acquaintance in St. Maries. The acquaintance, unaware Porter was a fugitive needing a get-away car, let him fix up an old car.

Porter slipped away before deputies could gather enough force to arrest him.

"For all we know, he could be stalking her," said Bonner County Detective Phyllis Jay. "That's why we need to get this man."

Jay said she's encountered disbelief over Griffith's story as she's investigated the case.

"You know what people say? `Not Larry Porter. He's such a nice guy."'


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