Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Excerpts from the Matt Baker murder trial

In the murder trial of Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker, the prosecution rested its case yesterday. The defense begins putting on its part today. Matt Baker denies all charges.

I know many of you have followed this case, but for those who haven’t, it’s about “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.”

This is a minister who, despite multiple sexual abuse and assault allegations, was able to advance his career through churches, schools, and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Despite the many troubling reports, no one stopped him. He continued for 16 years . . . until he was finally brought up on murder charges.

Whatever else this trial may eventually show, it has already brought to light the horror in how easily ministers with sexual abuse allegations can church-hop through Baptistland. Investigators claim to have discovered that minister Matt Baker spent years leading “a secret life as a sexual predator.”

The Waco Tribune-Herald has been blogging the trial as it progresses, and you can read the entirety of it there. I’m going to give you just a few excerpts, mainly from the testimony of Vanessa Bulls, who is shown on the witness stand. Her testimony is revealing of some of the common patterns of preacher-predators.

From the Waco Tribune-Herald’s blog of the trial:
January 19
9:03 a.m. — The state calls its 27th witness, Vanessa Bulls. . . . Bulls says she is a teacher at a school. Bulls says she was raised “strict Southern Baptist” and went to University of Mary Hardin Baylor. . . . Her father is a minister in music. He worked at Crossroads Baptist Church, where Matt Baker was pastor. She says her father took the position at Crossroads in September of 2005. She says that’s how she got to know Matt and Kari Baker. In September of 2005, she says that she was sitting in the church by herself and asked, casually, about Matt Baker. He told her, “whoever finds you is going to be a lucky man.”

9:06 a.m. — Vanessa Bulls says that she was going through a divorce in December of 2005. Matt Baker told her not to date other guys and to “just date your pastor,” she says. He asked her at a church potluck whether she would date her pastor. She says that he told her that he had a vasectomy, so he can’t give her any more children, but that he does not have any sexually transmitted diseases.

9:09 a.m. — Matt Baker started calling Vanessa Bulls “regularly,” she says. He asked her, she says, whether she needed counseling from her recent divorce. “God can get you through anything,” he told her, she says.

9:15 a.m. — Vanessa Bulls says that Matt Baker took the divorce counseling to a new level. He started saying she was beautiful and asked her to come over. … In late February of 2006, Matt Baker told Bulls, she says, that he and Kari didn’t have sex anymore because she was so depressed. In March, Bulls says, she went to the Baker home while Kari Baker was at work and the daughters were at school. Bulls says that she didn’t know this was “arranged” at the time. “That was a point in my life when I wasn’t thinking straight.” . . . At the Baker home, Bulls says they were going through the counseling sessions. “He asked if he could hold my hands to pray, and after that he kissed me,” Bulls says. This was in early March of 2006. Shafer asks whether she kissed him back. She says no. But, then he took her hand, Bulls says, and led her into Matt and Kari’s bedroom and they had sex. Bulls says he told her, “that God is such a forgiving God. I don’t think that God believes that a person can be with just one person for the rest of their life.”

9:20 a.m. — Matt Baker told Vanessa Bulls that, when the Baker’s lived in either Riesel or Axtell, Kari had tried to kill herself. “I was buying into everything. He is a complete, and still is, a manipulative liar. He made me believe everything he was saying. And at my most vulnerable state.” Bulls raised her voice when she said this.

9:26 a.m. — … He had told her that he was going to kill his wife that night, she says. The next morning, Bulls says her mother woke her up and told her that Kari Baker had died. . . . Bulls says she and her family went to the Baker home to see if the pastor was OK. She looked at Matt Baker, she says, and he winked at her.

9:33 a.m. — Vanessa Bulls attended Kari Baker’s funeral, she says. Two days later, he told her that no one would believe her if she told anyone what he did because he was a preacher. . . .

9:39 a.m. — …. After Kari Baker’s death, Bulls says that she was “more worried about herself then…. In truth, who would believe me? He was a preacher. I didn’t want to be in love anymore. I just wanted to be safe. … I wasn’t attracted to (Baker), I just wanted to be safe.” She says that she felt safe with Matt Baker because he was a preacher.

9:50 a.m. — On August 3, 2006, Vanessa Bulls says that she was interviewed by Det. Ben Toombs of the Hewitt Police Department and denied everything. “I still didn’t think anyone would believe me,” Bulls says. She says she was also afraid that people would find out about the affair. …. Bulls says that she had the “creepiest conversation of my life” with Matt Baker, who was calling from a cell phone. She says she started having a panic attack. At this point, Bulls says that she had found out from police “other things that (Baker) had lied to her about. Bulls says that, in a very “normal” voice he asked how she was. Bulls told Baker to turn himself in and he told her “God has forgiven me.”

11:20 a.m. — After Kari Baker’s death, Vanessa Bulls says again that she continued her affair with him because he had “warped” her mind and says that she was “afraid for” her life and her daughter’s life. “I knew what he was capable of,” Bulls says. . . . “It’s obvious that he’s a master manipulator and I believe you know that, too,” Bulls shot at Gray…. He victimized me, he victimized Kari, he victimized his girls…and he thinks he can do it again. He thinks he can do it again.”

11:48 a.m. — In August of 2009, Vanessa Bulls asked Hewitt police whether they were looking for an admission from Matt Baker. She says she knew he would never admit to guilt.

1:55 p.m. — . . . . She says, again, that she didn’t tell the truth because she was scared and didn’t want any repercussions. “It’s not easy to admit that you had an affair, especially in circumstances like this,” Bulls says. Looking right at the jury, Bulls says, again, that Matt had told her that no one would believe her because he was a preacher.

January 20
8:30 a.m. — … Matt Baker, 38, is wearing a tie that has “Faith” written on it several times.
Updates: See the KXXV video of Vanessa Bulls' testimony. Read the Associated Baptist Press report.
BaptistPlanet aptly called this "a predator's phrase dictionary" and said: "When a Waco, Texas, jury found Matt Baker guilty Wednesday, it by implication indicted Southern Baptist failure to act forcefully to stop clerical predators in its midst."


Junkster said...


Anonymous said...

You know what is interesting about this whole thing? MEN KEPT HIM IN MINISTRY.

Anonymous said...

I just randomly came across this case. Why hasn't it been in the news outside of Waco? It meets the criteria of a horrible sensational story the media usually gloms onto. Sounds like the PR department at the BGCT has been working overtime.

Christa Brown said...

"Sounds like the PR department at the BGCT has been working overtime."

I wondered the same thing. And of course the BGCT has one of the best-funded PR departments of any Baptist organization in the country. I expect a lot of hard-working people who put their tithes in Baptist offering plates would be surprised at how much of "God's money" goes to fund spin-specialists at the BGCT.

Imagine if you had the case of a Catholic priest who hopped from church to church within the same diocese, accumulating more than dozen known reports of sexual abuse and assault along the way, including reports involving minors, and then getting stopped only because he finally committed murder. Nowadays, you would have seen massive news coverage of that in the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and other major papers of Texas. But that didn't happen with the saga of Baptist pastor Matt Baker. He hopped his way through nearly a dozen churches and organizations all affiliated with the same umbrella organization - the Baptist General Convention of Texas - and amazingly, outside of Waco itself, the news stayed mostly quiet in Texas media. I saw Associated Press stories about the trial that got picked up by papers in California and New York . . . but not by Texas papers. (I saw one reduced and super-tiny Associated Press piece in the Houston Chronicle.)

Two years ago, when the murder charges were first filed, Texas Monthly magazine published an extensive article. After that, as news of so many more prior abuse and assault reports surfaced, it looks as though the BGCT's PR departent went into overtime to make sure that its own connection to the case was kept quiet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm actually in another state but keep tabs on the area for various reasons. Evidently the Matt Baker story did get some national play (I'm still trying to get up to speed on it,) but I'm comparing it to the bruhaha surrounding the pastor's wife who shot her husband in Tennessee--different denomination, of course. There is no comparison! I'm a Christian, but our family has been destroyed by members of this denomination. Evidently, we're not the only ones.

Anonymous said...

I expect a lot of hard-working people who put their tithes in Baptist offering plates would be surprised at how much of "God's money" goes to fund spin-specialists at the BGCT.

protecting their "brand"

Christa Brown said...

"...our family has been destroyed by members of this denomination. Evidently, we're not the only ones."

Anon: I'm very sad to say that you're right. You and your family are far from the only ones "destroyed by this denomination." The stories I hear are dreadful and numerous . . . every one of them so awful . . . and of course, most never see the light of day.

Since you're trying to come up to speed on the Matt Baker case, you might want to see this CBS 48 hours show. But this was national media (not Texas media) and it was before the revelations about the numerous reports of abuse and assault that preceded the murder.

Unknown said...

According to Bulls, Baker told her that God didn't expect a man to be with just one woman. Does that mean god gave Moses that command about adultary, knowing man couldn't keep it? I bet Baker didn't say that in his sermons!