NEW YORK (ABP) — ABC's primetime news magazine "20/20" program aired an updated story July 9 about a former Baptist pastor from Texas convicted of murdering his wife and trying to make it look like a suicide July 9.
The segment included a jailhouse interview with Matt Baker, a Baylor University graduate and pastor of several Texas Baptist churches, serving 65 years in prison after his Jan. 20 conviction for drugging and smothering his 31-year-old wife, Kari, with a pillow four years ago.
Authorities originally ruled the death a suicide, but were persuaded to reopen the case by Keri's parents, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit after becoming suspicious that Matt Baker was having an affair.
Police jailed Baker, who was pastor at Crossroads Baptist Church in Hewitt, Texas, south of Waco, at the time of his wife's death, for two months late in 2007. He was set free after a judge reduced his bond because there wasn't enough evidence to hold him.
He was indicted in 2009 after a female member of his church who first denied having an inappropriate relationship with Baker changed her story and told authorities the two were having an affair and that Baker told her he killed his wife so they could be together.
Crawford Long and Susan Shafer, assistant district attorneys in McLennan County, Texas, recently published a detailed account in an online trade journal of allegations by their star witness, Vanessa Bulls, that helped convince a jury to unanimously find the former preacher guilty of murder taking only one vote.
According to the prosecutors, Bulls over time told investigators that Baker discussed several murderous ideas for doing away with his wife before settling on a plan. He would slip something in her drink and leave an unsigned suicide note. With the approaching anniversary of the death of an infant daughter they had lost to a brain tumor, he allegedly said, no one would be suspicious.
Prosecutors say it nearly worked. The local coroner ruled Kari's death a suicide over the phone without examining the body. By the time the body was exhumed for an autopsy, it had degraded to the point that results were inconclusive. Authorities changed the official cause of death from suicide to undetermined, making it a difficult case to prove without Bulls' testimony.
Bulls alleged that Baker recounted the chilling details of Kari's murder "as though telling a story around the campfire."
According to Baker, she said, on Friday, April 7, 2006, a "date night" for the couple, Baker took apart some sexual stimulant capsules and filled them with a sleep medication. As Kari became groggy, he handcuffed her to their bed and performed foreplay until she fell asleep. She was alive and snoring when he kissed her on the forehead and told her to give their deceased daughter a hug or kiss for them before placing a pillow over her face.
Bulls said that Kari struggled, moving her head back and forth a few times, but between the drug and the handcuffs Baker managed to subdue her. Thinking she was dead, he removed the pillow. He said her eyes then flew open and she took a large gasp of air, before he reapplied the pillow, making sure the second time to apply pressure around her nose and mouth. Sure she was dead, Baker said he removed the handcuffs, typed a suicide note on a computer and placed it along with a bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand.
After staging the scene, the prosecutors said, Baker left the house to establish an alibi by buying gas and renting a video. He locked the bedroom door on his way out, leaving the couple's two daughters, then 5 and 8, alone in the house with their mother's body, sleeping in a bedroom down the hall.
"Matt Baker was a person who led a double life and used his position as a minister for evil purposes," their article concluded. "In the end he reminded us of the quote from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, 'The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.'"
Now 38, Baker is an inmate at the Polunsky unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a maximum-security prison 45 miles east of Huntsville. He is not eligible for parole until 2039.
Baker denies that he killed his wife and is appealing his conviction. He says his lawyers did not adequately represent him. He admits it was wrong for him to cheat on his wife and deny it, but insists that is the only thing he did wrong.
Baker did not testify at his own trial. The prosecutors said they looked forward to cross examining him about contradictory comments on many subjects, including in interviews on "20/20" and CBS' "48 Hours" programs. They said they also prepared a dummy on a bed for him to demonstrate his version of discovering the body and beginning CPR during a 4 1/2-minute 911 call recorded on tape.
The grandparents of Baker's daughters — Oscar and Barbara Baker of Kerrville, Texas, and Linda and James Dulin of Waco — are involved in a legal battle for custody of Kensi, now 14, and Grace, 9.
Publicity about the case also prompted a retired Waco couple — Tom and Jan Purdy, who know Jim and Linda Dulin through Waco's Calvary Baptist Church — to lobby legislators for passage of "Kari's Law," which would mandate that an autopsy is conducted on any suspected suicide.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.