Published January 14, 2015
Jurors in a minister's murder trial found themselves at odds Wednesday over the testimony of his former mistress, the state's key witness.
After more than five hours of deliberation, jurors sent the judge a note asking for the transcript of the testimony of Vanessa Bulls, who said Matt Baker told her how he killed his wife Kari and faked her suicide note in 2006.
Jurors said they were disagreeing over her testimony regarding "what went on" between her and Baker at his daughter's birthday slumber party shortly after his wife's death, and what she told investigators last year.
State District Judge Ralph Strother told jurors in a note that court officials would provide the part of the transcript regarding that issue.
Baker, who did not testify during the seven-day trial, faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Bulls testified Tuesday that during his daughter's birthday party two weeks after Kari's death, she stayed up all night talking to the girls and did not have sex with Baker. Bulls later testified that she told investigators last year that she and Baker had sex that night.
To find him guilty, jurors were instructed that they must agree on two elements of the case: that Baker drugged his wife and suffocated her with a pillow.
Earlier, jurors asked if they could find Baker guilty without agreeing that he smothered her. Strother told jurors in a note that they had to follow the instructions, but he did not repeat the wording.
Jurors also were denied a request to see Baker's entire videotaped deposition in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Kari Baker's parents. Strother said they were only allowed to see excerpts that were entered into trial evidence. Jurors also were given speakers after they said they could not clearly hear Baker's 911 phone call.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Susan Shafer said Baker had told a "web of lies" since his wife's death. She said Kari's upbeat e-mails about a new job just before her death contradicted Baker's story that she killed herself because she was depressed over their middle daughter's 1999 cancer death.
Bulls testified that Baker told her he 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 then typed a suicide note and rubbed his wife's lifeless hand over it in case authorities tested for fingerprints, Bulls testified.
The medical examiner overseeing the autopsy testified that it was hard to detect signs of smothering and that he did not see any trauma to Kari's body. But another medical examiner who only reviewed the autopsy report said he saw an abrasion on Kari's nose that was consistent with being smothered.
Shafer urged jurors to note Baker's contradictory statements in his deposition and his interviews to "48 Hours" and "20/20."
"She was in the way of the life that he had envisioned for himself, and he was a Baptist preacher and he couldn't divorce; he'd lose his job, and he'd have trouble getting another one," Shafer told jurors.
Defense attorney Guy James Gray said Baker was on trial for murder only because he had lied about having an affair.
The autopsy report listed the cause of death as undetermined, and the partial palm print on the suicide note could have been Kari's because an expert ruled out Baker and investigators who may have touched it, Gray said.
Kari Baker's fingerprints and palm prints could not be obtained. Her body was exhumed for the autopsy three months after her death amid suspicions that she did not kill herself.
Defense attorney Harold Danford said many prosecution witnesses were brought in "to make you mad at Matt" and urged jurors not to vote with their emotions.
Gray also said that Bulls was not credible and "may be pathological" because she repeatedly lied to police and others during the investigation.
Prosecutor Crawford Long said Bulls eventually told the truth about her affair and knowing about Kari's death, even though "everything she said makes her look worse and worse, and that's why you know it's true."