Suspect offers deal in divorce

Tuesday, April 7, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILMINGTON - Tracey Baker's attorney twice recently sent faxes to the attorney for Lori Baker, suggesting that the couple's pending divorce could be settled to Mrs. Baker's financial benefit, according to copies of the faxes obtained by the Enquirer.

Tracey Baker smiles at his parents Monday as he enters a courtroom in Clinton County.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |

Mrs. Baker is expected to testify against Mr. Baker in connection with the death of Carrie Culberson.

He is charged with two counts of obstructing justice, one count of tampering with evidence and one count of gross abuse of a corpse in the slaying of Miss Culberson, 22, of Blanchester. Mr. Baker's half-brother, Vince Doan, is serving a life sentence for her August 1996 kidnapping and murder.

Mr. Baker, whose trial is to begin Monday in Clinton County Common Pleas Court, allegedly helped Mr. Doan dispose of her body, a contention Mrs. Baker's testimony is expected to support. Miss Culberson's body has never been found.

The faxes, dated March 26 and 27, are included in a supplemental disclosure filed Monday afternoon by prosecutors which indicates they intend to call Mrs. Baker's attorney, David Bender, to the stand.

At a hearing Monday, Judge William McCracken said the issue of spousal privilege would be decided at trial, delaying the defense attempts to get Mrs. Baker's grand jury testimony excluded.

"As I am sure you are also aware," a March 26 handwritten fax from Baker defense attorney Scott J. Frederick to Mr. Bender reads in part, "there is significant marital debt also, that far exceeds the equity in the real estate and could expose Mrs. Baker to greater liability. Please advise me of your clientsposition on the spousal privilege issue, and depending on her position, I believe we can resolve this divorce to her benefit."

A second, typed fax, dated March 27, reads in full: "If you will prepare an Agreed Entry, stipulating that our clients are in fact married and that Lori Baker is entitled to exclusive use of the marital residence, my client and his parents will agree to sign and it can be filed with the Court immediately. Also, I believe that we could settle this entire pending divorce to the satisfaction of all parties in a very short period of time. Please discuss this with your client today and advise accordingly."

Mr. Frederick did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Mr. Bender said Monday he had a brief follow-up phone conversation with Mr. Frederick about the faxes but did not respond to them. He added he discussed them with Mrs. Baker, who filed for divorce Dec. 23, but declined comment on her reaction.

"I think they were purposely vague, I'm not sure what they mean," Mr. Bender said of the faxes. "I'm not going to try to get inside Mr. Frederick's mind."

He said of the reference to marital debt, "That's an issue that's a little cloudy. Apparently Mr. Baker has been sued by a few creditors, including Star Bank. He's trying to make her liable to Star Bank." He said he was unsure of the amount but that it is less than $10,000. Assistant Prosecutor Rick Moyer said the faxes "speak for themselves" and declined further comment. He said he spoke with Mrs. Baker as recently as Friday and she indicated she will willingly testify against her husband.

Under spousal privilege, prosecutors can't compel a person to testify against a spouse. Mr. Moyer said Monday that doesn't apply if the spouse willingly takes the stand, though there are legal exceptions.

"She's been pretty cooperative," he said of Mrs. Baker.

Mr. Baker remains in Clinton County Jail on $105,000 bond and appeared in court Monday smiling at family members and winking for media cameras. His father, Lawrence Baker, who also faces trial Aug. 17 in the alleged coverup, said Monday it is frustrating to see his son still in a prison jumpsuit. He declined further comment. Ms. Culberson's mother, Debbie Culberson, also attended, wearing the same pin picturing her slain daughter she wore throughout Mr. Doan's trial.

"I want them to know she's not forgotten," she said. "I want them to know I'm not afraid."

Also Monday, Mr. Frederick withdrew a motion to suppress a search warrant of the home at 225 Supinger Street, Blanchester.

In a March 31 letter filed by prosecutors, forensic scientist Annette E. Davis of the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory states an Oct. 10, 1996 luminescence test revealed the presence of blood in the sink bowl of the master bathroom. Additional testing, however, failed to confirm the presence of blood.

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