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Patty Porter never imagined Bobby Cutts Jr. would become like a son to her.
Cutts is the former Canton police officer who killed her 26-year-old daughter, Jessie Davis, and Davis' unborn child nearly 10 years ago.
He's the man who lied to her, authorities and everyone else about her whereabouts for eight torturous days. The man with the gall to join thousands of volunteers searching for her daughter across northern Stark County even though he knew he had buried her pregnant body in a shallow grave miles away in a Summit County park.
The man who left Blake, his 2-year-old son with Davis, home alone for more than 24 hours while pretending nothing happened.
Much has changed in the decade since Davis was murdered June 14, 2007.
Blake, now 12 and being raised by Porter, is the spitting image of Cutts and has a close bond with his father.
And Porter has joined the effort to seek Cutts' early release from prison, even though she knows the chance is slim.
"I felt like he had to go (to prison), but now when Blake needs his dad in his life, he's the one that suffers the most," Porter said in an interview with The Canton Repository.
While she's not sure what exactly happened in her daughter's duplex in June 2007 -- Cutts testified at his trial that he inadvertently elbowed Davis in the throat when she tried to stop him leaving her home during an argument -- Porter believes it was an accident. She believes Cutts panicked when he couldn't resuscitate Davis because he knew no one would believe a black man accidentally killed a pregnant white woman.
A jury convicted Cutts of aggravated murder and murder for killing Davis and their unborn daughter, Chloe. That requires Cutts to wait until April 2064 before a state parole panel can begin to consider his release.
Cutts would be one month shy of his 87th birthday; Blake would be 59.
Porter left the Stark County Courthouse in February 2008 believing she wouldn't speak to Cutts again for at least another decade. She said she would try to shield Blake from any negative comments against Cutts so Blake's view of his father would not be spoiled.
In the meantime, she said her priority was to make life as normal as possible for Blake and her other children.
She soon learned that life never is quite normal when your family has been the focus of national media attention. Well-meaning strangers would approach her and Blake in the store and talk to them as though they were family because they had seen them and Davis so much on TV.
Porter also faced backlash from people who blamed her for allowing her daughter to date a black man and from those who criticized Davis for having a child with a married man. Some people, including fellow Christians and members of her own family, disapproved of her decision to forgive Cutts and condemned her for even considering to allow that monster to see his son again.
Perhaps one of the toughest battles for Porter in the aftermath of Davis' death was trying to avoid the thoughts of Cutts that would creep into her consciousness.
'Why do I care about this man?'
Those thoughts came most often during her morning walks. She would be praying as she walked, mentally going through her list of people in need of God's hand, when she would feel the burden of Cutts weighing on her mind.
She would think about Cutts sitting in prison. As a former volunteer for Chuck Colson's prison ministry, she knew all too well the hostile environment he was facing. Her mind also would wander to what it would be like to do something that no amount of "I'm sorrys" ever could fix.
After weeks of pushing Cutts out of her mind, Porter gave in. She sat on a bench at the edge of the walking path and asked God, "Why do I care about this man?"
In a voice so powerful she wondered if it was audible to others, she heard God respond, "Because I care about him. That's why you care."
That God would care as much about a murderer and liar as he does about her and her dead daughter was a revelation to Porter, who had returned to Christ at age 26 after years of her own misguided decisions.
When Porter chose to forgive Cutts for her daughter's death, she did it because the Bible teaches Christians to forgive others as they have been forgiven. She also believed it was the first step toward healing for her and Blake.
In the weeks following her revelation, Porter began to realize that it would be Blake who would bring her and Cutts together again.
Blake, who often talked about missing his mom and dad, began worrying about his father's safety. He knew his dad couldn't leave prison to come see him. So what if there was a fire? Could his dad get out?
Porter tried to ease the boy's fears by taking him to a department store to show him the sprinkler system, but Blake remained concerned. He wanted to contact his dad to make sure he was OK.
He decided he would send his dad a letter. But at age 4, he didn't yet know how to write, so he begged Porter and his other relatives for help.
After weeks of nagging with no results, the typically passive child stood in the family's kitchen, stomped his foot and declared, "Somebody is going to write that letter for me."
Porter could tell that she couldn't put it off any longer. One letter led to more over the next year. The letters eventually gave way to phone calls. Still, Blake desperately wanted to see his dad.
It took Porter roughly two years and dozens of letters to persuade state prison officials to allow Blake to visit Cutts.
"The first time they said no, and I kind of was like, 'OK, no means no,'" Porter said. "Then I thought, 'No, I'm not going to accept that.' So, I wrote again. And again. And then I started writing to different people."
Prison officials eventually relented after Porter sent them a letter from Blake's counselor endorsing the visit.
Blake was about 6 years old when he walked into Toledo Correctional Institution for the first time.
When Cutts walked into the prison's reception room where Blake had been waiting anxiously with Porter and Cutts' family, the years and circumstances disappeared.
Blake rushed to greet him, wrapping his arms around Cutts' leg. Cutts then turned to Porter. Hugs and tears came before words.
The desolation of the prison faded into the background as Blake sat on his father's lap and excitedly rattled off a list of things he had done since he last talked to his father. For three hours, they laughed and played board games and talked some more.
Blake was so excited about seeing his dad that Porter took him back to his counselor the following day. The counselor recommended more visits, calling the initial visit one of the most promising experiences for Blake yet.
But prison officials didn't agree. In their denial letter, they stated while they appreciated the counselor's professional opinion, they didn't believe subsequent visits were in Blake's best interest.
Porter was appalled, but not defeated.
She wrote more letters. She also garnered help from people with connections to state political leaders and national civil rights activists. Eventually, something grabbed the attention of the state director and Blake's visits were approved.
At age 12 and headed into the seventh grade, Blake remains just as eager to visit his father in prison today as he did at age 6.
Porter believes he would try to visit Cutts nearly every weekend if it weren't for the honor student's school activities, soccer and the nearly two-hour trek from their Coventry Township split-level home to Marion Correctional Institution.
"He's never showed one bit of embarrassment or shame about his dad or that he visits his dad in prison," Porter said.
Blake sleeps every night with a pillow that Cutts gave him that features a photo of them printed on one side with the words, "I'm praying for you." The other side reads, "Sleep tight."
On his bedroom dresser sit framed photos of him and Cutts taken during their prison visits. They sit next to a photo of Blake and Davis wearing birthday party hats and a portrait of him, his mother and Porter.
Porter believes Blake has been able to develop such a bond with his dad because he was raised knowing that she forgave Cutts.
Porter, who refers to Cutts as a brother in Christ, believes he's a different person than when he was sent to prison.
"I think he's been broken and I think he has allowed God to heal him," she said. "He's someone who I have complete trust in. I don't think I see him through rose-colored glasses, but I see a person who has been forgiven and who has found redemption. I don't think there's one thing fake about him."
Porter knows that not everyone, including members of her own family, agrees with her decision to seek Cutts' early release.
"I think they understand the forgiveness part, but I don't think very many people understand the relationship part," she said. "Unless you walk down this path, I'm not sure you can."
She also knows that Cutts' chances of being released early are slim. He's exhausted his legal appeals and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has approved less than 4 percent of the requests for clemency since becoming governor six years ago. And county prosecutors are sure to object any bid for early release just as they had done throughout his appeals.
Yet, Porter, now 70, believes in her gut that Cutts will be released in time to see Blake graduate from high school in six years.
Cutts' mother, Renee Jones-Showalter, who has developed a close relationship with Porter over the past decade, envisions Cutts returning home and becoming a youth minister.
"I believe Patty and Blake will be the ones to get him home," she said.