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Published: Saturday, 10/3/2009

Woman, 21, pleads guilty in slaying in Northwood

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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BOWLING GREEN - Sarah Bunch admitted to police she shot Robert Porter inside his Northwood home, but she insisted she killed him in self-defense.

Friday, the 21-year-old Perrysburg Township woman pleaded guilty to amended charges of voluntary manslaughter, arson, and attempted tampering with evidence in the Dec. 8 death of Mr. Porter, 60, a longtime University of Toledo carpenter.

Prosecutors unraveled a sordid account of what led to the fatal shooting before Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry accepted her plea.

Heather Baker, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, said in exchange for money, Bunch had agreed to pose seminude for Mr. Porter, who lived near her grandmother's house where she was staying. When he became aggressive during the photo shoot in his bedroom, Ms. Baker said, Bunch shot him twice in the head. Later that day, she set his West Andrus Road home on fire.

"Throughout all the interviews, the defendant maintained that she shot Bob in self-defense when he became physically aggressive with her and tried to sexually assault her," Ms. Baker said.

She told the court she'd recommend Bunch receive 12 years in prison when she is sentenced Nov. 20. Voluntary manslaughter carries a potential sentence of three to 10 years in prison; the other two charges are punishable by six to 18 months in prison.

Bunch was originally indicted on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated arson, and tampering with evidence.

Voluntary manslaughter alleges the perpetrator caused the death of another "while under the influence of sudden passion or in a sudden fit of rage" provoked by the victim.

"In a word, it was evidence," said Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson, explaining the reduction in chargs. "We were compelled to find the best resolution based on what the evidence was, and in this case the evidence did not overwhelm what her description of the events were."

Ms. Baker told the court that Bunch agreed to pose for Mr. Porter because she needed money for her young child. She said Mr. Porter had her apply lipstick he kept in his bathroom cabinet before he started taking pictures of her, and a DNA analysis showed she had used the lipstick, Ms. Baker said.

Bunch told them when he became aggressive with her, she tried to leave and he grabbed her. She said she was scratched on her back, an injury that was documented, Ms. Baker said. Her DNA also was found under the victim's fingernails.

While Bunch initially denied setting the fire, Ms. Baker said she later admitted that after shooting Mr. Porter, she took her gun back to her grandmother's house on nearby Sharon Drive and returned to Mr. Porter's house and tried to start a fire in the bedroom and kitchen.

Ms. Baker said Bunch also took Mr. Porter's digital camera and attempted to erase the photos he had taken of her. Investigators were able to recover some of the images along with pictures of other women in similar circumstances, also wearing the lipstick.

Scott Coon, attorney for Bunch, said afterward that his client maintains she acted in self-defense but knew it could be risky to present that defense at trial.

"We have to take into consideration … we have a homicide and the jury's desire to hold someone accountable for it," Mr. Coon said. "There's always a risk when you go to trial that the jury would find that we did not carry our burden of proof even though it was self-defense."

For his part, Mr. Dobson said his office had to rely on the evidence. "She had given the police a story," Mr. Dobson said. "Police worked for months trying to determine what evidence they had to either support or refute that, and the [victim's] family certainly was entitled to having us provide as much justice for the loss of their loved one as we felt the evidence could support."

Bunch's trial was to begin Oct. 19. She is being held in the Wood County jail in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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