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Saturday, September 22, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested in wife's 2006 death

Less than a week before Kari Lynn Baker’s death, she found crushed pills in her husband’s briefcase and confided to a friend that she thought Matt Baker was trying to kill her, the close friend said Friday.

“She was kind of panicked about the whole situation when she found those crushed pills. No. Really, she was a lot panicked,” Shae Dickey, who taught with Kari Baker at Spring Valley Elementary School in Hewitt, told the Tribune-Herald. “She suspected that he was having an affair, and she told me she thought he was trying to kill her.”

Read the arrest affidavit.

Those fears are included in the affidavit filed locally Friday to support Matt Baker’s arrest. By sundown, the 36-year-old former Central Texas pastor had turned himself in to authorities at the Kerr County Jail.

Since Kari Baker’s death April 8, 2006, — initially ruled suicide by overdose — Dickey says she has replayed her conversation with Kari many times in her head, including her friend’s worries concerning her husband.

“And every time I play it back, I wish I would have done something differently,” Dickey said. “I wish I would have told someone.”

Dickey said Friday she wasn’t surprised to learn that Hewitt police investigator Ben Toombs and Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon had obtained a warrant for Matt Baker’s arrest, charging him with murdering Kari Baker, the 31-year-old mother of his two daughters, and making it appear as though she killed herself with a lethal cocktail of sleeping pills and alcohol.

Like others who knew her, Dickey said she never believed Kari Baker killed herself.

Matt Baker, former pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church near Lorena and former chaplain at the Waco Center for Youth, has since moved with his two girls to Kerrville, where his parents live. He has been working as a substitute teacher and a church youth minister, officials say.

Baker surrendered himself at the Kerr County Jail at 4:20 p.m. Authorities will bring Baker back to McLennan County Jail, where bond will be set. His daughters remain with his parents in Kerr County, officials said.

The arrest warrant affidavit Toombs filed alleges that Matt Baker used an over-the-counter sleep medication and alcohol on his wife to “render her defenseless,” then used a pillow or another object to suffocate her.

Baker’s attorneys, Gerald Villarrial and James Rainey, said they advised Baker to turn himself in at the Kerr County Jail.

“We can’t make any comment because we don’t know anything right now,” Rainey said Friday afternoon before Baker’s arrest. “We are just going to have to wait until after they arrest our client to find out what happened and then determine the next course of action.”

Keeping steady pressure

Kari Baker’s parents, Linda and James Dulin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baker in July 2006, alleging he killed her and made her death appear to be a suicide. They have kept steady pressure on Hewitt police officials to keep investigating their daughter’s death and elicited the help of the Texas Rangers in their quest.

“My husband and I have been waiting for this day for a year and a half,” Linda Dulin said. “We always believed that we would see this happen. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon. This guy makes Chuck Norris look like a wimp. I truly think this is a man of honor and courage, and he truly moved a couple of mountains to make this happen.”

She declined comment when asked about the efforts of Hewitt Police Department investigators, with whom Justice of the Peace Billy Martin conferred before declaring Kari Baker’s death a suicide. Only this week did Judge Martin, following an inquest, change his ruling in the death from suicide to undetermined.

Toombs acknowledged Friday that much of the new evidence that led to his seeking the arrest warrant came from the investigative efforts of Cawthon and the Dulins’ civil litigation team, headed by Waco attorney Bill Johnston, a former federal prosecutor.

“We appreciate the work of the Rangers and others that resulted in this arrest and we also appreciate Judge Martin’s cooperation in the inquest and today,” Johnston said.

Dickey said she doubted that her friend committed suicide because “of our conversations about family and her spiritual life.”

She said they talked of their children and the upcoming school year, adding that Baker had interviewed for a new job a short time before her death and was eager to face a new challenge.

“She was always looking forward,” Dickey said. “She was charged up about the possibility of a new job teaching language arts at the middle school because she just had a passion for writing and she wanted to go to the next level.”

Toombs’ arrest complaint alleges that phone records indicated that Matt Baker called another woman on “dozens of occasions” between January and March 2006, adding that they were seen shopping for engagement rings within days of Kari Baker’s death.

An inspection of Matt Baker’s computer at the Waco Center for Youth showed that he had viewed Internet sites about drug overdoses with prescription drugs. On March 9, 2006, Baker conducted a computer search for “overdose by sleeping pill,” according to the sworn statement.

Baker also visited other Internet sites such as “SecureRXCart,” which authorities believe he used to buy prescription medication.

After Kari Baker confronted her husband about finding crushed pills in his briefcase, the affidavit alleges Matt Baker told her that youths from the Waco Center for Youth must have put them in his briefcase. Matt Baker reportedly told police investigators later that his wife must have hidden the pills there, police allege.

Other allegations included in the complaint revealed there was an abrasion on Kari Baker’s nose and bruises on her lips, possibly indicating that a pillow or other object was placed over her face to suffocate her.

Evidence reviewed

Also, forensic experts from Tennessee and Oklahoma, who have been hired by the Dulins to review evidence for their civil lawsuit, agree the timeline Matt Baker gave for his activities the night he discovered his wife’s body are contradicted by physical evidence, including lividity, or the time it takes for blood to pool in the lower extremities of a dead body.

Besides Dickey, Kari Baker reportedly told a counselor in April 2006 that she thought Baker was having an affair and that she believed he was going to kill her after she found the pills in his briefcase, according to the affidavit.

Investigators also learned that Baker reportedly switched computers with his secretary at the Waco Center For Youth when he learned police had a warrant to inspect the one he had been using.

“The defendant even switched inventory labels on the computers in an effort to disguise the computer switch,” Toombs alleged in the complaint.

Later, the computer in his secretary’s office “went missing” on a state holiday when the offices were closed.

One employee at work that day remembered seeing Baker in the office area, the report states.

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