The state rested its case Tuesday in the murder trial of a Texas minister whose ex-mistress testified that he drugged his wife, handcuffed her to the bed under the guise of spicing up their marriage, then smothered her with a pillow until she died.
Vanessa Bulls said Matt Baker, then a Baptist preacher, had talked about killing his wife and making it look like a suicide. His wife, Kari Baker, had previously attempted suicide, Bulls said.
Bulls said she never reported his plans or the murder to authorities because she was afraid of exposing the affair that she said began about two months before Kari Baker's 2006 death. Bulls, 27, also said she was afraid of being arrested for not stopping Baker.
Bulls was not asked directly whether she helped Baker plan or commit the crime, but at one point she said she was only guilty of not reporting it.
‘A manipulative liar’
Bulls said she understood "what he was capable of" but tried not to think about it as she continued seeing Baker for about three months after his wife's death. She said Baker told her he would not harm her because he was happy with her.
"He was and still is a manipulative liar who took me in my vulnerable state and made me believe everything he said," said Bulls, who has been granted immunity from prosecution.
The defense was to start presenting evidence Wednesday. Baker's attorney Guy James Gray told jurors last week that Kari Baker's death, initially ruled a suicide, only became a murder case after authorities found out about the affair. Baker, who faces up to life in prison if convicted, has maintained his wife committed suicide because of severe depression.
During cross-examination, Gray asked about Bulls' interviews with several law enforcement authorities over the last four years, including some details that differed from her testimony. She told jurors that she did not know a cell phone Baker gave her had been Kari's. Later Tuesday she acknowledged that she told police in 2006 that she had known and had been hesitant about using a dead woman's phone.
Bulls acknowledged that during those interviews she had repeatedly denied the affair and knowing anything about whether Baker killed his wife. She even said she "didn't tell the whole story" to the grand jury but didn't explain why or when she decided to do so.
"He's never going to admit guilt, even if he's found guilty," Bulls told jurors. "I'm setting things right."
‘Out of his life’
Bulls said she met Baker in the fall of 2005 at church and that their affair began in February 2006 after he convinced her to have counseling sessions because of her divorce. She said Baker disparaged his wife, making fun of her weight and saying she was a horrible mother because she was depressed about the cancer death of their middle child.
"He said he wanted her out of his life," Bulls said, adding that Baker told her divorce was not an option because it would ruin his career and he was concerned that Kari would fight for custody of their two kids.
Bulls said Baker talked of various ways to kill his wife: a drive-by shooting, hanging her and making it appear to be suicide, and tampering with her car brakes. Once when Kari was late arriving home, Baker told Bulls that he "started getting excited that maybe she did have a wreck and he wouldn't have to do anything," the woman testified.
Baker even put drugs in his wife's milkshake one night but she complained that it tasted funny and didn't drink it, Bulls said. He also told Bulls that he ordered Chloroform online and ordered what he thought was the date-rape drug Rohypnol online, Bulls told jurors. He obtained the prescription sleep aid Ambien secretly from his mother-in-law's house, Bulls said.
Trying to spice up marriage
She said Baker decided to kill his wife on a night she was trying to spice up the marriage. Baker said he emptied the casings of sexual enhancement drugs and refilled them with Ambien, Bulls testified. She said Baker told her that his wife took the pills, unaware that he had switched the medicine. He took the real pills.
Bulls said Baker handcuffed his wife to the bed, kissed her until she fell asleep and then kissed her forehead, telling her to give their deceased daughter a hug or kiss for him. Baker then smothered her with a pillow, but she gasped for breath, so he put his hand over the pillow directly over her nose until she died, Bulls testified.
According to Bulls, Baker said he then typed and printed a suicide note and rubbed Kari's hands on it in case authorities tested for fingerprints.
‘Now you're leaving?’
Bulls said she began to feel trapped and more afraid of Baker because he said no one would believe her if she told. Then she broke up with him and urged him to turn himself in.
"He became irate. ... He said, 'I killed my wife for you and now you're leaving?'" Bulls told jurors.
She said about a month later, Baker called to ask how she was, in what she described as "the creepiest phone call of my life" because he sounded completely normal. She said she reiterated that she wanted nothing to do with him.
"He said, 'I miss you.' ... I said, 'You've got to turn yourself in.' He said, 'God has forgiven me.'"
Although she and Baker had looked at houses, he quickly found a new girlfriend when he moved to Kerrville with his daughters that summer, Bulls testified.
After Bulls' testimony ended, Dr. Sridhar Natarajan, the Lubbock County medical examiner who was asked to review Kari Baker's case, testified Tuesday that an abrasion on her nose was consistent with an injury from being smothered.