Ex-pastor who killed wife gets 65-year prison term

By ANGELA K. BROWN

Associated Press writer

The Sacramento Bee

January 21, 2010

WACO, Texas -- Jurors on Thursday sentenced a former Texas minister to 65 years in prison for murdering his wife and trying to cover it up as a suicide.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours before agreeing on the sentence for 38-year-old Matt Baker. He had faced from probation to life in prison for slipping his wife sleeping pills and suffocating her in 2006.

Baker showed no reaction when the sentence was announced. When the judge asked if there was any legal reason why Baker should not be formally sentenced, he said: "I truly believe in my innocence. I believe the jury made a mistake in this."

Later, as deputies led him from the courtroom, Baker turned to his mother.

"Love you Mom," he said. "Take care of Kensi and Grace."

Kari's mother Linda Dulin told Baker that the family had decided to forgive him for the sake of the two daughters.

"You took her from us, Matt; you discarded her like she was yesterday's trash ... and you left so many other victims," Dulin said in her victim impact statement at sentencing.

"What you did was horrific ... and I believe you are capable of much more evil."

Jurors declined to comment after the trial, which almost never happened.

Kari Baker's death was deemed a suicide after a note and sleeping pills were found by the bed, and Baker said she was depressed over their 16-month-old daughter's cancer death in 1999. But authorities reopened the case several months later after her parents shared evidence obtained for their wrongful death lawsuit against Baker.

He can appeal but will have to find other attorneys. His defense team, Guy James Gray and Harold Danford, were removed as his attorneys after the sentence as they had requested. They had represented him for free after Baker was declared indigent.

Gray said after the trial that he felt "like an idiot" for initially believing Baker's denial of his affair, which he later admitted. Gray said that he did not allow Baker to testify because he "could not vouch for his credibility." Gray said Baker remained in denial about murdering Kari, and he represented his client as best he could.

"When you lose faith in your client, you lose heart," Gray said.

Prosecutor Crawford Long had urged jurors to impose the maximum sentence, but he said afterward that he was not disappointed. Baker will be eligible for parole in about 32 years.

During closing statements, prosecutor Susan Shafer said Baker was dangerous because he still could fool people into believing he was a good person. She said the "best of Matt" was his two daughters, who were asleep in the house when he killed his wife.

"He thought no more of them than to murder their mother and then erase her legacy with them by convincing them that she didn't love them enough to stay and raise them, that she committed suicide," Shafer told jurors.

Gray had told jurors that Baker was on trial only because he lied about having an affair.

The state's key witness was his ex-mistress Vanessa Bulls, who told jurors that Baker slipped his wife the prescription sleep aid Ambien, handcuffed her to the bed under the guise of spicing up their marriage, and smothered her with a pillow after she fell asleep. Baker told Bulls he typed a suicide note and rubbed Kari's lifeless hand over it in case it was tested for fingerprints, she testified.

Then he called 911 and said he moved her to the floor, dressed her nude body and began doing CPR, but witnesses testified that was impossible in the few minutes before police arrived. He also gave conflicting statements about when he found the suicide note, whether his wife was awake or asleep when he went to run errands that night, and which door was locked when he returned about 45 minutes later.

Baker also searched numerous pharmaceutical Web sites and almost bought Ambien online, according to other testimony. Ambien was one of three drugs found in Kari Baker's body, according to the autopsy results.

Shortly after her death, he removed Kari's pictures and clothes and replaced them with photos of Bulls with his daughters, according to testimony. He also looked at engagement rings with Bulls.

During sentencing Thursday, four women testified that Baker had made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including one who complained to police of an attempted sexual assault.

Baker also used his church-issued laptop and a computer at a youth center to look at pornographic Web sites and those for married adults who want to have affairs, Noel Kersh, a computer forensics examiner, testified Thursday.

Several people who knew Baker as a child or teen called him a "good guy," and Sharon Rollins, who grew up with him, described Baker as charming and flirtatious, but said she "never took it as an advance."

Jeanne Lehrmann, a member of a Baptist church in Riesel where Baker was pastor several years ago, testified that he was a fine pastor.

"I truly felt that he is a man of God," Lehrmann said, adding that she still felt that way and did not believe much of the trial evidence.

http://www.sacbee.com/827/story/2479998.html

   
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