This is a special episode for Behind the Crime! Think of this as a blog/podcast crossover with the Ignorance Was Bliss podcast. Kate and I talked about the case of Frederick Baer and something a little closer to home. I hope you all enjoy it!
When Frederick Baer was 32 years old, he murdered 26 year old Cory Clark after attempting to sexually assault her. Once Cory was dead, Baer chased down Jenna, her 4 year old daughter, and killed her as well. Baer had been seen driving around Clark’s neighborhood and was arrested shortly thereafter. Baer attempted to plead guilty but mentally ill, but the court denied the plea even though the two court appointed mental health experts found that Baer was, indeed, mentally ill. Frederick Baer was found guilty and sentenced to death on June 9, 2005.
Frederick Baer was raised in Indianapolis. Though he never knew his biological father, he and his older sister were adopted by their mother’s new husband. Frederick remembers it being a good childhood. He says his mother and stepfather were loving, and he and his sister never went hungry. Things were good. Then Evelyn, Frederick’s beloved older sister, was murdered by her abusive ex-husband. Frederick wasn’t even a teenager yet.
Evelyn’s death drove the entire family into a downward spiral. Baer’s stepfather started using alcohol to deal with the tragedy. Before too long, he started getting emotionally and physically abusive. Frederick had not only lost his sister, but was losing his relationship with his stepfather as well. Though he had at one time dreamed of following his stepfather’s footsteps in the Army, now Baer was struggling just to cope with day to day life. His mother withdrew more and more and Baer became hyperactive and lost the ability to concentrate in school. He fell into the wrong crowd and was regularly using drugs by the time he got out of high school.
On February 25, 2004, Baer was working at a construction site. He had been using methamphetamines for some time and was coming down from his last binge. During a come down cycle, symptoms can include muscle weakness and pain, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Baer was steeped in this cycle when he left his job site and drove to the Lapel, Indiana neighborhood where Cory Clark lived. Cory’s oldest daughter was at school and her husband was out of state to look for a job. Baer had seen Cory outside an pulled up to her house and knocked on the door. Young Jenna answered the door and Frederick asked if her could talk to her mother. When Cory came to the door, Baer told her he was lost and asked if he could use her phone. Cory turned from the door to go get the phone and Baer followed her inside. After both Cory and Jenna were dead, Baer stole the little bit of cash that was in Cory’s purse and left the scene.
Frederick Baer has adapted to life in prison. The structure seems to work for him, though it is necessary to keep him completely separated from other prisoners for his own safety. Even amongst other violent criminals, the murder of a young child is extremely prejudicial. Baer himself has said that he probably does deserve to die for what he did. He keeps both Cory’s and Jenna’s birthdays marked on the calendar that hangs on the wall of his cell. Indiana State Prison considers Baer to be a good prisoner, though. Even on death row, he’s allowed certain privileges. There are pictures of Princess Diana hanging all over his cell. He says he was always drawn to Diana – to her heart and her drive to help those around her. He’s even allowed to have a pet cat named Princesss that lives with him in his prison cell.
While Baer has said that he most likely deserves the sentence that he received, he’s filed several appeals throughout the years. His most recent appeal was upheld and his death sentence has been reversed. As of January this year, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned Baer’s death sentence and the case has been sent back to Madison County for resentencing. Among the issues that Baer says were withheld from the jury during sentencing were the diagnoses of his mental illness. Dr. George Parker concluded that Baer’s extensive history of drug use could have easily changed his brain chemistry in a detrimental way. Dr. Mark Cunningham testified at length about Baer’s family history of drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, psychological disorders, as well as multiple head injuries that Baer suffered during school. Dr. Cunningham concluded that Baer was “extraordinarily damaged”. A neuropsychologist who studied Baer found no reason to believe that Baer was malingering or faking it. He diagnosed Baer with persisting dementia, substance-induced psychosis that persisted even when Baer was not actually under the influence. A licensed clinical social worker, Dr. George Savarese, testified that Baer’s mental illnesses were a direct result of years of abuse and the troubled relationship between his parents. Years of physical and emotional abuse as well as Baer’s drug abuse led to a defense mechanism known as “splitting” and while Baer was able to understand that his conduct was wrong, he was not able to control it.
It’s important to understand the GBMI – guilty but mentally ill – plea. Frederick Baer acknowledged his guilt. He was seen in the neighborhood. Cory Clark’s blood was found in his car. His guilt was never really in question. The question, instead, was how to respond to his guilt, and when it comes to a question of how to respond, a jury needs to think about not just the victims of a crime but also of the perpetrator.
I come from a fairly small town in the middle of Texas. I grew up with a close family and most of my extended family lived in the area as well. There were a few rough patches as I was becoming an adult, but I worked through them with the support of those around me. I married my husband in 1998 and I have 3 beautiful daughters and one absolutely adorable granddaughter. Yet, despite all this, I was sentenced to 5 years deferred adjudication probation after pleading guilty to felony theft <$20,000. I’ve spent a lot of time since then wondering how in the world I got to this point in my life. How did I become a 40 year old wife and mother with a criminal arrest record?
Long story short, I used to manage a rent-to-own business. The store had a long history of missing merchandise that went back several managers before me. After some time of juggling paperwork and inventory, I had finally had enough and told my district manager about the missing merchandise. During one of the most stressful events I have ever been through (and that includes having broken an ankle and tearing the ACL in my right knee, three childbirths, and a hysterectomy due to possible cancer) I said the words “As the manager, I’m responsible for the store.”
You know that bit that you see on every TV crime drama where a lawyer pops up and says “Don’t say anything!”? For the record, you should take that advice to heart. ESPECIALLY if you’re innocent.
My lawyer, hired too late to do any real good, informed me that there was a good chance that if this went to trial I could spend up to 7 years in prison. Prison. I still can’t see that word without hyperventilating. Typing it has me in tears. I cannot express to you the fear that one word instills, and I never actually stole anything. The stress that this situation puts on me is almost unspeakable, and yet it has very little effect on my day-to-day life. I’m free to come and go, as long as I’m home by 11pm. I meet with my probation officer once a month and submit to drug testing twice a year. Still, sometimes it all crashes down on me and it’s all I can do to breathe, much less function.
Now I try to put myself in the place of Frederick Baer. It is a matter of court record that he came from a long line of abuse, substance abuse, psychological disorders, physical injuries, and extreme family stress. None of this excuses his actions. None of this means that Cory and Jenna Clark deserved to die in the horrible fashion they did. None of this means that Frederick Baer deserves to live free among the rest of the population. But does it mean that he deserves to forfeit his life?
The hard reality is that we have all had pain in our lives. We have all had stress. Every single one of us has done something we regret. We’ve hurt someone, whether emotionally or physically, purposefully or not. We’ve all failed. Every one of us should give others the consideration that we would like to receive in return. It’s easy to write someone off as a monster. It’s easy to see the evil in them. It’s necessary to see the humanity behind the crime if we’re ever going to learn how to change and grow past the horrible events we see everyday.
Again, thank you to Kate and thank you to Bek and Tyler for all their support!