SUTTONS BAY — A Suttons Bay man convicted of murder and sexual assault in two separate crimes that shocked Leelanau County in the 1970s was released from prison without parole.
Wayne Frank Porter, 63, walked out of Jackson's Cooper Street Correctional Facility on Thursday after earning enough "good time" credits on his maximum 90-year sentence to warrant early release. He was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in 1979, a crime he committed while on parole for second-degree murder.
Leelanau County sheriff's Lt. Clint Kerr said Porter is in poor health and not believed to be dangerous, but the public should still know about his release. He said Porter's crimes are "probably the most notorious" in Leelanau County for several decades.
"A lot of people who were here in the '70s were familiar with that," Kerr said.
In 1971, Porter strangled Barbara Belfour, 43, with a rope and buried her body in a snow bank on frozen Suttons Bay. Porter suffered injuries in Vietnam from a grenade and a land mine and was on leave from the Army at the time.
Authorities tracked down and arrested Porter in Canada. He was convicted of second-degree murder in Leelanau County and sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison, but only served seven years before he was released and quickly fell under suspicion in another crime.
In 1979, a teenage runaway told authorities she was held at knife point, strangled, sexually assaulted and almost drowned in a creek near Lake Leelanau by a man who matched Porter's description. Porter pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct and the prosecution dropped an attempted murder charge.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said Porter's conviction came before Michigan enacted "truth in sentencing," a law requiring prisoners serve their minimum sentence — in Porter's case, 60 years — before they're eligible for parole. He said Porter earned "good time" credits that cut his sentence by up to 15 days per month.
"He essentially maxed out before hitting his minimum sentence," Marlan said.
Marlan said Porter is not on parole, but must register his address in the state's sex offender registry.
Kerr said Porter is expected to move into his sister's residence in the Traverse City area. He said Porter recently lost about 100 pounds because of his deteriorating health and is not likely to be "much of a threat."