WACO (January 20, 2010)—After about seven hours of deliberation Wednesday, jurors found former Waco pastor Matt Baker, 38, guilty of the murder of his wife Kari Lynn in 2006.
The jury returned the verdict at around 9:40 p.m. Wednesday.
State District Judge Ralph Strother immediately revoked Baker’s bond and set the start of the punishment phase of the trial for 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Baker, who had been free on $250,000 bond since April 2009, showed no expression as the verdict was read and he was led from the courtroom, but his late wife’s mother, Linda Dulin, was crying as she walked out, hugging other family members.
“We did it,” she said.
Ninety-four people are on the list of potential witnesses for the trial, and a number of them could testify during the punishment phase.
Deliberations started just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after closing arguments in which prosecutors urged jurors to tell Baker “you understand what he did, and you are not going to get away with it.”
The defense said, “You can't find him guilty because you are mad at him.”
The crux of the case, said defense attorney Harold Danford, came down to "Vanessa Full of Bulls,” a reference to Baker’s ex girlfriend Vanessa Bulls, who testified Tuesday that Baker told her he drugged his wife Kari Lynn, handcuffed her to the bed under the guise of some amorous play, and then suffocated her with a pillow in April 2006.
Defense attorney Guy James Gray also attacked Bulls’ credibility, telling jurors, "Matt Baker is not worthy of praise. I am not proud to represent him, but Vanessa Bulls is not worth of praise here."
Prosecutor Crawford Long had the last word, telling jurors Baker “held himself out as a minister” but that “he has perverted what's good and holy,” he said.
Throughout the evening, jurors sent out a series of notes that offered a glimpse at the issues they were considering.
Among the last was a note that indicated jurors disagreed about what Baker’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Bulls said in her testimony Tuesday about what happened between Bulls and Baker at a birthday party for one of Baker’s daughters and what testimony showed Bulls told authorities on March 31, 2009.
At about 9:15 p.m., Strother said he was sending the requested testimony to the jury.
Baker’s attorney Guy James Gray then moved for a mistrial, based on discrepancies between Bull’s testimony to the McLennan County Grand Jury and what she told investigators, saying that was becoming an issue for the jury.
Strother denied the motion.
Bulls testified during the grand jury investigation and her testimony was crucial to the indictment.
District Judge Matt Johnson granted her testimonial immunity before her grand jury appearance in March, which means nothing she said during the proceeding can be used against her.
Earlier, after advising jurors they could have a transcript of Bulls’ testimony only if there was a disagreement about a certain portion of what Bulls said, Strother told jurors assembling that information would “require some labor,” and said he advised them that “we are attempting to comply with their request.”
He advised jurors to continue to deliberate and told them, “Dinner is on the way.”
Dinner arrived at about 8:30 p.m. and appeared to be from Waco’s Uncle Dan’s BBQ.
Earlier in the evening, jurors sent out a note asking whether they could find Baker guilty if they agreed only that he drugged his wife rather than drugged and suffocated her.
That question was significant, because the instructions the jury was given before beginning deliberations said that jurors had to agree on both elements in order to find Baker guilty.
Strother said he would tell jurors to follow the original instructions as required by law, but didn't repeat what they were.
Jurors also asked for headphones to use to listen to recordings of 911 calls.
Late Wednesday afternoon, after about 90 minutes of deliberations, jurors sent out their first request, asking if they could view Baker’s full deposition from a wrongful death lawsuit that his late wife’s parents filed against him.
Strother denied the request, saying that the jury may only review items that were admitted into evidence.
Only excerpts of the deposition were entered as evidence during the trial.
At the start of the day Wednesday, the big question was whether Baker would testify.
Defense attorneys called a single witness Wednesday morning before resting their case.
Prosecutors put Kari Lynn Baker’s mother, Linda Dulin, back on the stand Wednesday morning for rebuttal testimony and showed jurors a montage of video clips of interviews Baker did with various news media and then rested their case, as well.
Kari Baker died at the couple's residence in Hewitt in April 2006 and the death initially was ruled a suicide.
But in July 2006 McLennan County Justice of the Peace Billy Martin changed his ruling on the death from suicide to undetermined, after an autopsy was performed on her exhumed body at the urging of her parents.
The subsequent autopsy showed traces of sleeping pills and medicine in her muscle tissues.
Baker was a former pastor at several area Baptist churches and once served as chaplain at the Waco Center for Youth.
He holds degrees from Baylor University and Baylor's Truett Seminary.
Earlier In The Trial