Matt Baker found guilty of murdering his wife

By Tommy Witherspoon

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Waco Tribune-Herald

January 21, 2010

Matt Baker, dubbed by prosecutors as the “murdering minister,” was convicted Wednesday in the April 2006 drugging and suffocation death of his wife.

Jurors in 19th State District Court deliberated more than six hours before finding the former Baptist minister guilty of the murder of Kari Baker.

Neither Baker nor his mother, Barbara Baker, showed any emotion as Judge Ralph Strother read the verdict.

On the other side of the courtroom, Kari Baker’s parents, James and Linda Dulin, embraced, while other friends and family members sobbed silently into clenched fists.

Jailed after conviction

Punishment-phase testimony will begin at 8:30 this morning. Baker, who has been free on bond, was ordered jailed after his conviction. He is eligible for probation but faces up to life in prison.

No attorneys or family members were available for comment because they remain under a gag order until after the punishment phase.

The defense rested its case early Wednesday without calling Baker to the stand.

In closing, Baker’s defense attorney, Guy James Gray, told the jury of seven women and five men that he was “not particularly proud to be representing Baker.”

“I’m not particularly proud of Matt Baker,” added Gray, who moved to Kerrville after serving 25 years as Jasper County district attorney. “He had an affair and lied about it, and that is why he is in this spot.”

Abundant lies

Gray said the prosecution failed to meet its burden, adding that its star witness, Vanessa Bulls, told many more lies than Baker. Bulls, Baker’s mistress, lied to investigators, lied to the grand jury and lied during Baker’s trial and is not worthy of belief, Gray said.

“With Vanessa, it was, ‘I’m going to come clean, but it’s going to be in stages,’ ” Gray said.

Bulls, 27, who admitted to having a four-month affair with Baker before and immediately after Kari Baker’s death, testified Matt Baker admitted to her graphic details about how he drugged and then suffocated his wife.

Bulls, who told jurors Tuesday that she feared she may lose her job because of her involvement with Baker, was placed on administrative leave with pay Wednesday pending “the outcome of an investigation” from her position as a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Eastern Hills Middle School in Harker Heights.

‘Believable’ witness

Prosecutor Crawford Long countered in his summations that while the jury might be repelled by Bulls and her actions, her testimony was absolutely believable because she had nothing to gain and everything to lose by cooperating.

Bulls did not cooperate with authorities until she was granted testimonial immunity minutes before she testified in front of a McLennan County grand jury.

Baker was indicted for murder shortly after her testimony.

“Nothing she told us made her look good,” Long said. “Everything she said linked her to a horrible crime. Everyone, I think, was repulsed by what she said.”

Long, who called Baker “the murdering minister,” told jurors most people lie to either get out of trouble or to make themselves look better. Those are the reason Baker lied, Long said, but not Bulls.

“Does any of that make her look good? Do you really think she came here to commit job suicide? Everything she said makes her look bad, and that’s why you know it’s the truth,” Long said.

Bulls testified Tuesday that she knew ahead of time that Baker was planning to kill his wife and did not report it.

In her summation, prosecutor Susan Shafer recounted what she dubbed Baker’s “web of lies.”

She honed in on Baker’s 9-1-1 call after he said he came home from running errands and found his wife dead behind a locked bedroom door with their two daughters asleep down the hall.

She said it would have been impossible for Baker to dress his wife in 90 seconds while lifting her lifeless, 197-pound body to the floor and starting CPR, all while still talking to the emergency operator with the phone tucked between his chin and his shoulder.

Suicide note

She recalled how Baker said in television interviews that he never saw the alleged suicide note until a Hewitt officer showed it to him.

However, he told the 9-1-1 operator that there was a note that said Kari’s “was basically apologizing.”

Baker also told the 9-1-1 operator that he had to hang up to unlock the door for the first emergency responders.

One of those rescue workers, though, testified Baker was outside talking on the phone when he arrived, Shafer reminded jurors.

“Honestly, I don’t believe he was doing CPR,” Shafer said. “It is just not humanly possible to do the things that he said he was doing all the while being on the phone with 9-1-1. It’s a staged scene.”

Shafer also told jurors signs of blood pooling in the lower regions of Kari’s body are not consistent with Baker’s recounting of events the night she died.

“He wasn’t doing anything to try to save her,” she said. “She had been dead a good, long while by then.

“He knew it because he had done it.”

twitherspoon@wacotrib.com

757-5737

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/content/news/stories/2010/01/21/01212010wacbaker.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=11

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