NEW YORK (CBS) As a reporter who covers murder cases prior to trial, I sometimes encounter an unusual dilemma: how do I report incriminating evidence we uncover during our investigation? What happens if a prosecutor decides to use it at trial? How do I avoid becoming an arm of the prosecution by bolstering a case against a defendant?
Even when the evidence indicates the person is most likely guilty of a crime, it is unsettling for a reporter to think her work might contribute to a guilty verdict. That is exactly what my producers and I faced in the case of Matt Baker.
A little background is in order.
I first met Matt Baker - a Baptist preacher - in the fall of 2007 in his hometown of Kerrville, Texas. When a man accused of murdering his wife is willing to talk to a reporter prior to trial, on camera and on the record, it is only natural to believe that he just might be innocent. And Baker was more than willing to sit down for an interview. What's more, Baker's attorney, Guy James Gray, was a savvy former prosecutor who told us he had taken the case pro bono because he believed deeply in Baker's case.
When my producers and I started work on the case three years ago, we thought that Baker might be a man wrongfully accused.
During the interview, Baker, then out on bail, was open and spoke in great detail about the night of April 7, 2006 when his 31-year-old wife Kari died. Baker told us that he had left his home late that evening to pick up a couple of movies and to put gas in his car. He returned home at midnight to find his wife in bed, cold and unresponsive: dead of an apparent suicide.
As a reporter, I have long abandoned the fantasy that I can tell whether a person is truthful or not during an interview. Baker was a little odd during the interview; his story contained inconsistencies. Still, it wasn't until my producers and I began to look at the evidence that we began to doubt Baker's story. There was the problem with the alleged suicide note: it was typed, even Kari's signature. Baker said his wife Kari had been depressed in the weeks leading up to her death, yet we couldn't find anyone other than Baker's own mother to confirm that.
There were so many troubling facts: Kari had told both a friend and a psychologist that she feared her husband wanted to kill her. Kari feared that her husband was having an affair. Baker had done research on the topic "overdose on sleeping pills" weeks before Kari died. A world renowned toxicologist questioned Baker's description of the events.
So weeks after our first interview, we knew we had to go back to Baker and ask him about the incriminating evidence against him. This time, I thought, "He'll never talk." I was wrong. Again, he sat down for an interview. This time, attorney Gray was at his side. We were very honest with both of them about the dilemma we faced as reporters. Baker lived in Texas, a state without a strong reporter's shield law. I might be forced to hand over my interviews to an aggressive prosecutor.
Did he still want to talk? I asked. Yes, he said. Was he concerned that something he said could be used against him at trial? No problem, I was told. Baker assured me that he was telling the truth and had nothing to worry about. And again, he went into great detail about his wife's death. This time, however, some of the facts had changed. And he denied in this interview as he did in the first that he had been involved in an affair at the time of his wife's death.
Shortly after that interview, the issue of incriminating information appeared to be moot. The prosecutor failed to indict Matt Baker and then dropped charges against him. What's more, by then, Baker had spoken to a lot of people on the record: the police and other reporters. We aired our first hour long report on the case in late spring of 2008, which included portions of all of our interviews with Baker, inconsistencies, and all. It didn't seem to matter: Baker was a free man.
Everything changed a year later. When a new witness came forward and testified before the grand jury, Baker was once again charged with murder and what he said to us in three interviews suddenly became relevant again. In January of this year, I sat in the courtroom at Baker's trial as parts of my broadcast interviews were shown to the jury. There he was, on the large screen in front of the room, trying to explain away glaring inconsistencies in his stories. And it certainly didn't help Baker's credibility when his lawyer was forced to admit that his client had lied to me and everyone else about having a mistress. He had a mistress, alright, Vanessa Bulls, who took the stand and testified against him.
Throughout it all, Baker displayed no emotions and I kept wondering, "What is going through his mind?". Was he returning to that day years earlier - as I was - when he said so confidently that he had nothing to fear from the truth?
The Matt Baker story will appear on Saturday's episode of 48 Hours | Mystery.
Erin Moriarty is an attorney and an award-winning correspondent for CBS News. She covered the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine High School shootings and the 9/11 investigation overseas. Moriarty has won nine national Emmy Awards and a 2001 Press Club Award, among others. She has been a correspondent for 48 Hours | Mystery since 1990.