Paso Robles man faces 16 charges of child molestation. Now he’s defending himself

Jason Porter, here in court for a pre-preliminary hearing in August 2016, fired his defense attorney and will represent himself.
Jason Porter, here in court for a pre-preliminary hearing in August 2016, fired his defense attorney and will represent himself.

A Paso Robles man accused of sexually molesting and secretly recording several children has fired his public defender and will now represent himself as the case stretches into its fourth year.

Jason Robert Porter faces 16 felony charges of lewd acts with a child and sexual penetration of a victim 10 years old or younger, possession of matter depicting sexual content of a minor, as well as 41 misdemeanor counts of using a concealed camera to record a person’s undergarments.

According to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office complaint, Porter is charged with physically molesting five children under the age of 7, between 2012 and 2016, at least one of whom were younger than 2 years old at the time of the alleged crimes.

He’s additionally charged with taking lewd photos or videos of 13 identified people. Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said Wednesday that there could be additional victims investigators were not able to identify in the footage.

Dobroth said by email that the “significant number of victims” is among the largest number in any criminal case he’s personally observed.

Porter’s pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in state prison.

On Monday, in what is known as a Faretta waiver, Porter wrote to Judge Craig van Rooyen that he wanted to relieve his appointed defense counsel, Steve Rice.

“My current public defender and I do not agree on all aspects of my defense,” Porter wrote. “I may not be nearly as qualified, but no one else will fight for me as diligently as I will.”

On Monday, van Rooyen approved Porter’s request and relieved Rice, who has spent the better part of three years on Porter’s defense.

Rice said Tuesday he respects his former client’s decision and that “everyone has the right to represent themselves if they want to.”

After approving Porter’s request to represent himself, van Rooyen ordered that all non-protective discovery be provided to Porter, and assigned him a court-appointed investigator, records show.

In addition, Porter indicated that he will file a series of motions in the case, including a request that he receive confidential personnel records for ex-Paso Robles Police Department officer Christopher McGuire.

McGuire — who himself dodged criminal charges of rape and resigned from the department in disgrace — worked on the Porter case and testified at a preliminary hearing in March 2017 that Porter installed a concealed surveillance camera in his family’s home’s bathroom, and that investigators found as many as 40,000 videos and images on several computers, cameras and storage devices that took them more than three months to review.

The case is currently scheduled for jury selection Aug. 5, records show.

Gregory Francisco Gillett, a San Luis Obispo attorney representing a number of Porter’s alleged victims under California’s Marsy’s Law, said by phone Tuesday that he wouldn’t be surprised if Porter’s move means the trial is again continued past summer as Porter gathers his defense.

But Gillett said his clients are eager for resolution.

“I think its safe to say that the sooner this is over with, the better,” he said. “My clients are looking for closure, and I’m hoping a completed trial will do that for them.”

Porter was first arrested June 23 after an incident outside a home in the 1000 block of Vista Grande Street in Paso Robles in which a woman said she caught him taking lewd photos of her daughter.

Porter posted bail, but Paso Robles police then served a search warrant at the home he shared with his parents in the 800 block of Vista Grande.

Investigators allegedly found thousands of images and videos of children engaging in sexual acts, including some showing Porter — identified by his voice and wristwatch — molesting children, leading to his second arrest.

A Tribune investigation in August 2016 found that Porter’s former sister-in-law had warned a San Luis Obispo family court about Porter’s volatile and sometimes violent behavior in her own custody proceedings over five years, but her concerns related to Porter were largely ignored.

Porter is being held in County Jail in lieu of an unusually high $7 million bail.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.