There are few things that irritate me more when it comes to the law then the blatant disregard of it inside a courtroom. It is not, as I imagine some would believe, that I have a “bleeding heart” for defendants per se but a fair trial not only helps to ensure (although not always) hat the innocent are freed and the guilty are convicted. Of course a lot of variables come into play to make these things happen and some cannot be controlled like how much evidence is available or what that evidence contains. But, things such as behaviors by all attorney's involved, and even the judge can also make or break a case. When there is misconduct from any side there is the risk of justice not being served properly. Sometimes that can include the prosecution of an innocent person, or like in this case, the reversal of court proceedings in a case that was clearly going to be a win for the prosecution.
In 2004 Fredrick Baer, a resident of Indianapolis, was working on a construction site in nearby Anderson Indiana. Baer had a long criminal list dating back to at least 1990. By 2004 he had at least three burglaries on his record. In fact, I was a bit confused because according to the Department of Corrections Baer was not even scheduled to be out of prison until some eight months after this current crime would occur. At any rate on February 25, 2004, he was apparently out of prison and working. He would allege that on that day he was suffering from withdraw from methamphetamine. He left the construction site, apparently in the middle of the day and drove to the nearby small town of Lapel. He parked near two homes. Apparently he planned to rob one of them. It was said that he went to the fist house and a woman answered but would not let him in the home to use the phone. Instead she brought the phone out to him and he faked dialing a number and then left. As he did so he apparently twenty-six year old Cory Clark just down the street.
Cory Clark lived with her husband and their two daughter. John Clark was down in Florida looking for a job and seven year old Morgan was at school. It was just Cory and her four year old, Jenna that were home that fateful day that Fredrick Baer showed up in their neighborhood. It seems that like the other woman, Fredrick asked to use the phone only this time as Cory went inside to get it, he followed her in. Once inside he would first attack Cory and then he would go after helpless Jenna. When he was done both females would be left in the home dead with their throats slashed. It would be determined there had at least been an attempt to sexually assault Cory, and apparently Fredrick took items from the home before he left. After leaving the home Frederick apparently went right back to Anderson to the job site.
Frederick Baer would be found and arrested three days later. Neighbors had seen the suspicious car and had described it to authorities. One had even written down the license plate number. Investigators quickly tracked it to Frederick Baer. Prosecutors would say that the motive behind the murders was to feed his drug habit and his sexual appetite. Defense attorneys would say he was mentally ill. Just before his trial in 2005 he sought to plead “guilty but mentally ill” but the judge denied his plea saying here was not enough evidence to show he suffered from mental illness.
Just where the trial took place seems to be at odds. The crime took place in Madison County and I can say that Judge Fred Spencer, who presided over the trial was a judge in that county. First my research indicated the trial did in fact take place in Madison County with a jury brought in from another county. However, the appeal from 2018 states that the trial took place in Marion County, which is where Indianapolis is located. In fairness it could have been a typo or miscommunication but I so often rely on appeal papers that there is a part of me that hopes that is not true.
Frederick Baer was sentenced to death on June 9, 2005. However, although it took nearly thirteen years to do so, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his death sentence in January of 2018. In fact, they seems they were even almost torn at overturning his conviction. And, while I believe Frederick Baer is, and was completely guilty and his crime deserved the death penalty, I do believe the courts were correct in overturning his sentence and would have been well within their rights to overturn the conviction also. The Indiana Attorney General stated that they planned to appeal this decision and will wait for an answer before deciding what to do next.
Officially the cause for the overturning of the sentencing was “ineffective counsel” but the appeal went on to criticize rulings made by Judge Spencer and accused the prosecutor of misconduct. The attorneys that had worked for Baer at his trial actually agreed they were ineffective, and not simply because they lost. The court had ruled that they had failed to object specifically during jury instructions that had failed to allow the jury from considering mitigating circumstances and when the prosecutor made blatant untrue of inflammatory statements. According to his lawyers they had began the trial objecting over and over but that Judge Spencer repeatedly denied hem so they decided it was best to stop objecting so much in front of the jury. They were afraid it would make them look petty and desperate at best and attempting to hide things at worse. However, that does not mean that they had not objected to at least some of the “misstatements” made because they had. In fact, they asked for a mistrial after one such statement only to be be denied by Judge Spencer who would then say “I got to tell you the truth, I wasn't listening to what he said.” This comment just utterly astounds me!! This statement alone tells me that a fair trial was not given. Sure Frederick Baer was guilty, sure he deserved punishment, but how many other cases has this judge presided over and did not “listen”?
So what kinds of things did the prosecutor say that raised the ire of the courts? Well, I guess it started before the trial even commenced and they were still interviewing jurors. Prosecutor Rodney Cummings would tell the prospective jurors that guilty but mentally ill was exactly he same as legal insanity which is not true. To be legally insane one must not know the difference between right and wrong. They also have to lack the ability to understand the consequences of their actions and understand or “appreciate” why those actions were wrong. It is rare for a defendant to be found legally insane but when they are they are most generally sent to live in a mental facility as opposed to a prison. However, when one is guilty but mentally ill it is something completely different. First and foremost the biggest difference is that those defendants are placed in prison just like any other defendant. Also unlike those legally insane having no understanding to either their consequences or why what they did is wrong, to be guilty but mentally ill one has to not understand one of these things.
In closing at the trial while the prosecution was arguing for the death penalty and obviously the defense was hoping for something less, the prosecutor suggested to the jury that if they sentenced Baer to life without parole that the Indiana General Assembly could change this and Baer could one day be released onto the streets. First off, there had not been then, nor to my knowledge has there been discussions since that would make this a possibility. But these statements, among others it seems, as outrageous as they were, were not the reason the courts overturned the death penalty in this case.
No, they overturned the death penalty because of those things that were discussed at the sentencing hearing. Now, I am not going to lie and say that some things that I suppose qualify as mitigating evidence does not absolutely drive me crazy. In fact in my research I made a list of the hings the defense argued and on the side I literally wrote “Are you kidding me?” In fairness this was I believe the third case in a row for me dealing with the death penalty and extremely heinous crimes. I was sick of hearing that so and so did it because they had a bad childhood or seeing that it appeared that defense attorneys were throwing everything they had at the wall to see what would “stick.” I am a firm believer that at least three fourths of the population had a 'bad childhood.' That is not an excuse in my opinion. Yes, I realize that some have had it worse than others but come on!! I saw one recently that used the fact his parents had divorced as a mitigating factor. So did mine....not until I was nearly forty years old... but they did divorce. It should have been decades sooner, hence the “bad childhood” but does that mean that I can then go out and do whatever I want and blame it on the fact that I had a bad childhood and my parents divorced? No, it does not. The list of “mitigating” evidence or circumstances in this case included: mental illness, paranoid personality disorder, anxiety disorder (of which I heard of nothing to back up any of these three claims), drug dependency, difficult childhood, toxic parenting, bad report cards (YES! It really said this), impulsive, sister killed and mother had chemo. As you can tell a few of these “set me off” as I felt they were absurd. And yet the courts that two things were crucial about this evidence. First was that the word “intoxication” was removed from jury instructions. Now, to be fair I am uncertain exactly where the word was to be placed, who and why it was not used or any of the specifics but apparently the appeals court did know and felt that the elimination of that word in jury instructions limited the jury's ability to understand their duty. They also pointed out that the prosecutor improperly stated after victim impact statements that the family of the victims wanted the death penalty. Again I am uncertain here if the prosecutor was forbidden from mentioning what the family wanted or if they had not expressed this in their impact statements and yet the prosecutor had. Either way this was part of the reason that the appeals court overturned the sentence.
There is really no way of knowing for certain exactly what will come of this case at this moment. I suspect however if the state loses their appeal to have the death penalty reinstated for Baer that they will likely offer him a deal that would give him life without parole and hope that he take it. The cost of having a sentencing hearing would be almost senseless considering the fact that Indiana has not executed an inmate since 2009 and despite having several on death row no one currently has an execution date set, nor is there an idea on when they could resume. This would not be an issue for this case had the judge and the prosecutor acted appropriately. It is a prime example of why guilty, or innocent, a fair and proper trial is to be had by all.