Nfld. & Labrador

Al Potter admits stabbing Dale Porter, claims self-defence during testimony

Animated on the stand, Al Potter says Dale Porter came at him with a knife the morning of the North River man's death.

Accused murderer says he feared for his life while in company of covert officers

Al Potter, 55, stands in the prisoners' box at Supreme Court in St. John's on Tuesday. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Al Potter, with restraints on his legs, shuffled up to the witness box Tuesday and told the jury at his first-degree murder trial about a knife fight which he says ended Dale Porter's life. 

"I noticed Mr. Porter with a knife in his hand. And things happen so fast in your mind. I was thinking, how do I get around this?" Potter testified.

Holding up his arms and making stabbing motions, Potter, 55, demonstrated his version of events from the early morning of June 29, 2014.

I used the force I used to try to get Mr. Porter to release the knife he had. Had he released the knife, I would have stopped.- Al Potter

There was no denial that he stabbed Porter, a father of two, fisherman and truck driver from the Conception Bay North community of North River.

But Potter told the jury at Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday that he did so out of self-defence and did his best to avoid further conflict.

Jennifer Reid holds photos of her older brother Dale Porter, who was killed on June 29, 2014. Her older sister Bonnie stands by her side at Supreme Court in St. John's. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Like testimony from witnesses before him, Potter said he, a second man and the man's girlfriend went to the Coach House bar in Bay Roberts the night in question.

"I remember Dale being there," Potter said, adding the two men gave each other a nod at the bar.

At times during his testimony, Potter winced, placing his fingers on his head, while telling the court he was trying to remember the correct version of events.

Potter said it's his understanding that Porter, 39, shared a cab with he and his friends because the cab Porter arrived in was full.

After arriving back to Porter's home, the plan was for Porter to get cocaine for the man Potter was with, Potter said. The second man's identity has been covered by a publication ban.

"You might as well get a couple of eight balls," Potter says he told his friend, adding he didn't want to use drugs himself as he had just come off a cocaine binge.

"[Porter] was saying some really derogatory things to [the second man]."

He testified that they also ended up arguing over who would pay for the cocaine delivery that was on the way.

'There was nothing between him and I'

Before getting into the specifics of what Potter said Porter was uttering, he looked up to the gallery and said he felt bad for repeating the words in front of Porter's family, who were crying in the courtroom gallery.

He then apologized for his language to the jury, when indicating Porter told the other man he would have sex with his girlfriend.

Porter and the second man continued to bicker, Potter said.

"I don't want to be in this driveway anymore. I was looking at [second man] and trying to say to him, let's get out of here," Potter said.

In an attempt to defuse tension, Potter said he asked Porter for a drag of his cigarette, and Porter obliged. 

"Him and I had … there was nothing between him and I."

As the court has already heard from expert testimony, both Potter and Porter's DNA was discovered on a cigarette butt found at the crime scene.

Police seized several newer-looking cigarette butts from Porter's driveway for testing. One of the butts contained DNA belonging to Porter and from Potter. (Court exhibit)

Potter said while he relieved himself nearby, the arguing between his friend and Porter persisted.

"I've got to protect [the second man] because he's mentally retarded."

"I know that if I yell that's gonna be good enough for [second man]," Potter said. "But I'm pretty sure me yelling wasn't going to have an affect on Mr. Porter."

Instead, Potter said he decided to take out the five-six-inch knife he had in his pocket, which he had used previously to make crack pipes, "to get their attention and to stop their argument and make it dramatic enough to have that effect."

"As I turned I noticed …" Potter trailed off, as he took a long pause, his hands on his head.

"I noticed Mr. Porter with a knife in his hand."

Dale Porter suffered 17 stab wounds

Potter, taking a step backward to show how he says Porter approached him, said the knife was pointed at him, and at that point he told his friend to "run."

Reenacting the scene, Potter said he tried to knock the knife out of Porter's hand but "he started swinging."

"I'm trying to cut his hand, stab his hand but he didn't let go of the knife. He kept advancing," Potter told the court.

"I've been in martial arts most of my life and I've been in other knife fights," he said, adding that he always fought with his fists.

The medical examiner has testified the Porter suffered 17 stab wounds, four cuts and had bruising. One of the wounds, at his jugular in the neck, likely killed him.

The fight, Potter said, lasted between 10 to 12 seconds.

"It was a rumble. It was a fight with probably two guys who had way too much to drink."

The two men went to the ground, he said, and Potter admitted to stabbing Porter back the back, "trying to take the good out of him."

"I was trying to get him to drop the knife from the start."

'Had he released the knife, I would have stopped'

He left Porter on the ground and walked away, but said he later went back to grab Porter's knife and began fighting again.

He then saw the headlights of a vehicle coming, and Potter and his friend hid, before getting a cab back to a Vikings hangout at Cupids Crossing.

"My head was hit a few places … I had an injury in my arms, my shoulders, my hands were cut."

Asked by his own lawyer Randy Piercey if he even thought of going to police himself, Potter said, "It crossed my mind … but not really."

The police could have found him, he said, which they later did when they arrested him — then released him — for the stabbing.

As for the level of force, Potter said: "I used the force I used to try to get Mr. Porter to release the knife he had. Had he released the knife, I would have stopped."

I was afraid of undercover officers, Potter says

Much of Crown prosecutor Sheldon Steeves' cross-examination Tuesday surrounded Potter's time with three undercover police officers, and the admission he made to one of them. 

As Steeves pointed out, Potter never told police he killed Porter in self-defence.

He said when he confessed to the killing it "was to show him that I had stones to stand up to somebody … and to let him know that if that's what him and his friend with the white van had for me, [I could defend myself]."

Potter, who stands nearly six-foot-three, said he feared he was going to be killed in the cornfield the night he was released from jail, and insisted he heard a noise that startled him.

He also claimed he did not know the business he was working with involved violence, but rather surveillance of people.

"Yeah, my senses were up. I was trying to take in everything I could," Potter told Steeves.

Al Potter speaks with an undercover police officer on Sept. 26, 2016, outside a hotel in London, Ont. (Court exhibit)

The purported dead body that he helped bury didn't seem right either, Potter said, thinking at one point the men could possibly be cops. 

"When we picked the bag up, it seemed to roll inside. It wasn't rigid.… It seemed to move inside the bag," he said. 

"It came to my mind it was a body but it didn't sit right. The blood on the tablecloth, bedsheet, didn't look right.… You could tell it was poured on manually."

On the car probe recorded by the RCMP and played for the jury, Potter was relatively quiet when asked if the body he believed he had buried "suffered."

"I just kept my mouth shut. I tried to play it off, actually, and play it cool but inside my guts were doing flips," Potter said.

The Crown suggested Potter didn't exhibit any fear, and at one point during the ride from the cornfield to the cemetery, the vehicle drove by an Alice Cooper billboard and Potter started singing Welcome to My Nightmare.

"The words of that song kind of fit," Potter snickered.

"​The fact is, I wasn't guilty of a crime in North River, not really, to me."

Potter will return to the stand Wednesday. 

Live blog 

Ariana Kelland has been following the Potter trial since the beginning. Follow her updates through this live blog. If you are not seeing it on your phone, please click here