HEBER/OVERGAARD—Since October 2019, former Mogollon High School science teacher Melinda Porter, 36, of Heber/Overgaard has faced felony charges stemming from an “inappropriate relationship” with a student according to the Navajo Sheriff’s Office. On Oct. 22, a grand jury handed up its indictment charging Porter with three counts of sending harmful internet material to a minor, Class 4 felonies; kidnapping, a Class 2 felony, and one count of assault on a minor, a Class 6 felony.
Porter pleaded not guilty and is presumed by law to be innocent.
Porter resigned from her teaching position and hired Flagstaff attorney Bruce S. Griffen. The case seems to be moving along in the ordinary course. A review of court records indicates that there is a plea offer on the table, and defense counsel told the court in February about “on-going work to provide a mitigation package to the state.”
In criminal law in Arizona, some charges carry mandatory sentences. In addition, prosecuting agencies throughout the state often come up with their own policies or guidelines detailing the terms the agency will agree to with regard to plea offers, specific to particular crimes charged.
Kidnapping can ether be charged as a Class 2 or Class 4 felony. Porter was charged with the Class 2 version meaning that the state believes that it can prove that Porter restrained someone for nefarious reasons and/or the alleged victim was under 15 years old. If proven, it could mean decades in prison by law and a particular policy of the prosecuting agency might forbid any deviation from the high-end range of sentence mandated by statute.
But prosecutors are, after all, not just skilled advocates; they are tasked by ethical rules to be “ministers of justice,” and sometimes a one-size-fits-all approach to a case would not serve that end.
That’s when a “mitigation package” comes in. While not a part of court rules, mitigation packages show the prosecutor’s office a side of a defendant that isn’t apparent just by reading police reports. They typically emphasize a defendant’s lack of criminal history, mental or emotional health problems sometime caused by past trauma to the defendant; family life, positive activity within the community, the episodic or unusual nature of the defendant’s alleged act, and steps taken to rehabilitate. Upon considering the mitigation packet, a prosecutor may agree to change or amend the charges, or deviate from their own guidelines, in order to arrive at an appropriate outcome for that particular defendant.
Porter’s last court date was March 3; the date of her next one is not yet available.