Former Texas Pastor Matt Baker Indicted in Wife's 2006 Death

Former Texas pastor Matt Baker accused of drugging and suffocating his wife.

April 3, 2009, 4:34 PM

April 6, 2009 — -- Matt Baker, a former pastor and family man, was indicted last week for the murder of his wife Kari Baker three years ago.

On April 7, 2006, 31-year-old Kari Baker of Waco, Texas, was found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving behind a typed, unsigned suicide note.

Matt Baker, 37, the father of two daughters with Kari, received the sympathy and compassion of his community until he became a suspect in his wife's death, a charge he denies. Baker was arrested on Sept. 21, 2007 and held for 25 days before being released. Authorities alleged in a 2007 affidavit that Baker was "interested in having a relationship" with a female member of his church and had been speaking to her from his work or cell phone "once or twice a day" between January and April of 2006.

Baker claims that he and the female were no more than friends. The murder charge was never dropped, but Baker wasn't previously indicted due to lack of evidence.

"I did not kill my wife. I did not hurt my wife. I loved her," Matt Baker told ABC News in March 2008. "There was never a doubt that I loved her or that she loved me. She had a wonderful smile, great personality. I don't think my love ever stopped for her and it won't."

Information provided by the female member of Matt Baker's church -- who was given immunity and testified before the grand jury on March 25 -- led to the current indictment, which alleges that Baker "intentionally or knowingly caused the death" of his wife by "administering drugs to her and suffocating her with a pillow."

Baker turned himself in on March 26 and is being held on $500,000 bail.

On Friday, Matt Baker's mother told ABC News that the family would fight the charges.

"We have always believed in our son's innocence, and we will aggressively fight these charges," Barbara Baker said. "As much as we love helping to raise our granddaughters and get to participate in their daily activities, we know that the girls are eagerly waiting for daddy to come home."

Kari's mother, Linda Dulin, told ABC News that the family is grateful that a new investigator in the district attorney's office looked at the case with fresh eyes.

Although Kari Baker had a full life, in his 2008 interview with ABC News Matt Baker said there were signs of trouble.

It began with a monumental tragedy in the young couple's life: the loss of their second daughter. Kassidy, who was born a decade ago, suffered a brain tumor when she was 1 and died at 16 months in 1999. Everyone agreed that the death drove Kari Baker to bouts of terrible grief.

"I didn't think she was depressed," Matt Baker said. "I thought it was just a deep sadness."

"Suicide is an answer to pain you can't get rid of," Barbara Baker said. "There was pain that Kari was undergoing that she either couldn't or didn't get the proper help for and that was not a bad answer for her."

The night Kari Baker died, Matt Baker told investigators about her sadness over the loss of her daughter and the investigators quickly decided the death was a suicide. A lone detective took photographs of the scene and the justice of the peace -- who didn't come to the house -- made a ruling of suicide over the phone and without an autopsy.

Just days after Kari Baker was buried, her family, recovering from shock, told everyone who would listen that suicide was not in her nature. She had two daughters, Kensi and Grace, and loved her job at Spring Valley Elementary School.

"This just came out of nowhere," said Nancy Lanham, Kari Baker's aunt. "There is no way Kari would've done this."

Lanham also said Kari Baker was excited for her future.

"The day of her death, she had gone in for an interview," Lanham said. "It went really well."

Matt Baker: 'Never Once Did I Solicit Sex'

The churchgoing people of Waco viewed Matt Baker as a grieving widower left to raise his two surviving daughters and to pick up the pieces after these two terrible tragedies -- which is why it was a shock to Waco, Baker's church and his family when months after Kari Baker's death, the justice of the peace changed his ruling on the case.

At that time, Matt Baker was arrested and charged with first degree murder, and some began to wonder if he had a secret life that may have led to his wife's death.

Lora Wilson was a freshman at Baylor University along with Matt Baker in the early 1990s. They both worked in the athletic department as trainers where she said Baker assaulted her in the locker room at Floyd Casey Stadium.

"He didn't stop with the kiss," Wilson said. "He didn't stop with the touching until he was ready to stop, 'til he had gotten whatever it is he got."

Baker remembered the incident, but denied assaulting Wilson. He said it was the fantasy of a hysterical coed.

"There was a group of us working, and when we finished, I don't know what happened to her," Baker said. "All I can tell you is when she left the facility, [she] was in tears, but [it was] nothing I did."

In March 2008, "20/20" documented six other complaints against Baker -- including one by a female custodian from the First Baptist Church of Waco, who said Baker grabbed her sexually; a teenage girl from the same church who claimed he spoke to her in a sexually provocative manner; and several at the YMCA where he supervised a day camp. There, four young women complained to management of improper sexual conduct.

Baker denied all of the allegations, including any claims of assault.

"I can say this and I'll say it again that ... never once did I solicit sex from anybody," Baker said. "But can there have been things that have been said that [were] misconstrued? Possible, but never once did I solicit sex from them."

What really turned Kari Baker's family against Matt Baker was the revelation that he had given Kari's cell phone to a young woman from his church who he called every day.

A police affidavit outlining Baker's arrest accused him of having an affair with the woman and even claimed they were seen shopping for engagement rings together. The affidavit stated Baker's motive for murder was to continue his new relationship.

Baker claimed the relationship was platonic and he and the young woman were buying earrings for his daughters.

The Sleeping Pills

The police affidavit also claimed Kari Baker may have suspected her life was in danger.

The affidavit said she believed Matt Baker was having an affair and that she told her counselor she found crushed pills in his briefcase and was afraid he was going to poison her because he was having an affair.

Police said they found evidence on Baker's computers that he was searching the Internet about sleeping pill poisoning.

Baker said that he has no idea where the crushed pills came from and that he searched the Internet because he was trying to protect his wife, who he said was increasingly dependent on sleeping pills.

"I did research to see: Can you overdose? Is that even a possibility that I need to worry about, my wife overdosing on sleeping pills?" Baker said.

And he asked that if his wife's counselor really believed he would hurt her, why didn't the counselor do more to protect her?

"She [Kari Baker] never looked me in the face and said, 'I think you might hurt me,'" Matt Baker said.

In his 2008 interview, Baker seemed to contradict himself when discussing who found the suicide note.

On the phone with the 911 operator, he said he found the suicide note, but during his interview, he said a police officer found it first and gave it to him.

And there are other troubling details about what Baker told police and ABC News about the events leading up to that night.

"It's 11 o'clock. She goes, 'Well, go get this movie for me and gas up 'cause we have a busy tomorrow,'" Baker said.

Baker's 45-minute trip was confirmed by surveillance cameras and receipts. When he got home at midnight, he found his wife dead and nude behind a locked bedroom door.

Tom Bevel, a former Oklahoma City homicide detective hired by Kari Baker's family as a crime scene analyst, said paramedics told him that lividity, a reddish rash that normally forms an hour to three hours after death, was just forming on Kari's body when they arrived. He said that indicated that Kari Baker must have died long before Matt Baker left the house for a movie.

Circumstantial Evidence

Bevel pointed to other red flags, like the locked bedroom door and the typed suicide note, which are rare in suicide cases. He also found it suspicious that the first thing Matt Baker did before calling 911 or attempting CPR was to try and put Kari Baker's clothes back on.

"I knew my wife well enough, that would've been embarrassing for her," Baker said. "I did not want the EMTs to come in and see her naked."

The prosecution's theory is that Matt Baker drugged Kari Baker with sleeping pills and then suffocated her with a pillow.

In an autopsy performed months after Kari Baker's death, there was no sign of sleeping pills in her stomach. There was, however, evidence of sleeping pills found in her tissues, though that does not determine how many sleeping pills she actually took.

The autopsy also failed to reveal any evidence of suffocation or choking.

"I think it is something that, in our society, we hang that hat with the jury and let them look at all of the physical evidence that is there, those issues that you're bringing up, and it is up to them to make that decision," said Bevel.

When asked last year, Baker repeatedly denied killing his wife.

"I loved her. She's the mother of my children," he said. "We struggled after the death of our child and like every marriage, you have your ups and your downs, you have your good days and your bad days. But I loved her and I miss her and I did not hurt my wife."

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