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"He used me," she said, pointing at her former lover. " . . . He wore the mask of G.o.d, like he's doing now . . . He did it. The only thing I'm guilty of is not telling anyone sooner."
Yet Bulls seemed disconnected from reality, in denial about her part in Kari Baker's death. She'd bedded a married man, then listened as he planned his wife's murder. When Gray asked if Vanessa worried that she could be charged with a crime, Bulls looked proud. Despite admitting she'd acted as Matt's confidante as he planned a cold-blooded murder, to the astonishment of many in the courtroom, the pretty middle-school teacher said: "Absolutely not, because I didn't do anything wrong."
Again and again, Gray returned to Bulls's prior statements, all the lies she'd told over the years. Even with what she had testified to on the stand, she'd made conflicting statements about when the events had occurred. Did Matt tell her how he murdered Kari two days after the killing as she said now? Gray asked. Or was it the way she'd told Rodriguez earlier, that Matt had told her over the phone weeks later. "I told bits and pieces," she said. "I didn't tell the whole truth."
When Gray pushed harder, Bulls became incensed. "What do I have to gain from this right now? I could possibly lose my job as a teacher. Everyone is looking at me really bad right now. I'm setting things right. I made a mistake here because a manipulative liar wearing the mask of G.o.d came into my life."
On redirect, Bulls talked of "not doing the right thing" and "a mother was lost." But did she truly understand that she could have saved Kari Baker's life?
There seemed little doubt that Bulls was an unsympathetic witness. Perhaps to rehabilitate her, Shafer asked about the song lyrics Matt had e-mailed her, the words to the All-American Rejects song "Dirty Little Secret." Those lyrics became state's exhibit number fifty-seven, and Shafer had Bulls read them into the record, including the chorus: "I'll keep you my dirty little secret. Don't tell anyone, or you'll be just another regret."
Adding more detail, Bulls said that Matt had told her that they shared a "dirty little secret," and that what he was referring to wasn't their s.e.xual liaisons but her prior knowledge of "the murder plan."
The last thing Vanessa Bulls testified to from the witness stand was Matt Baker's att.i.tude toward murder: "He said he felt like it was a mercy killing in a way because he felt like he had already cheated death once when he claimed that she had tried to overdose previously and he'd taken the pills from her hand. So, he said that he felt like it was just time now. No, not upsetting. No long face. He was happy afterward."
The crowd gathered in the hallway watched Vanessa Bulls exit the courtroom. She looked almost regal, that same small smile she'd had when she'd walked in, her head high, her eyes glistening. She could have been walking up the aisle at her wedding or in front of a swarming crowd of paparazzi eager for news of her latest movie. The cameraman for the Waco Tribune-Herald caught her expression, and the headline that ran next to the photo the next morning told the story: MISTRESS: HE KILLED HER.
After Vanessa Bulls's testimony, Susan Shafer put up only one more witness, the second medical examiner. On the stand, Dr. Natarajan described the abrasion on Kari's nose, one that could have been made by a pillow.
Then the state rested.
The following morning, Matt Baker entered the courtroom in a sport coat as he had the other days, but there was something that made many recall Vanessa Bulls's words from the day before, when she'd charged that the ex-pastor wore "the mask of G.o.d." Carefully knotted around his neck was a tie, one that had words written across it. Most prominent, front and center: FAITH.
From the beginning, Guy James Gray had said that his client would testify, and the mood in the courtroom was expectant. Yet as the defense began, Gray called a forensic scientist, Brent Watson, to talk about DNA found on the suicide note and the bottle. Watson confirmed what the other experts had said, that Matt Baker's DNA wasn't found on either piece of evidence. The DNA on both was a mixture, and on the Unisom bottle there was a 1 in 1,029 chance that Vanessa had touched it. Yet that was so low, what could jurors take from that?
"All you can say is that some of these people might have touched the bottle. You can't say they are a match?" asked Crawford Long.
"That's right," Watson answered.
At that, the defense rested after a single witness.
Why didn't Matt testify? Later, he'd say he wanted to but that Gray told him not to. The reason had to do with a trap Shafer had set for Baker in the fourth-floor grand jury room, a mock-up of the bedroom on Crested b.u.t.te, with a 197-pound CPR dummy on the bed, near Kari's weight on the day of her death. "If Matt had testified, we were going to make him show us with a cordless phone to his ear, how he dressed Kari and did all the things he claimed to have done in those brief minutes," says Shafer. "We were going to make him do it in front of the jury."
"I knew he couldn't do it," says Gray. "But it was a hard decision. Not putting Matt on the stand cost us dearly since he was going to be the one to talk about Kari's depression. But he never would have been able to pull it off. Once I found out about the dummy and the bedroom, we had to advise him not to get on the stand. It would have been suicide."
Testimony ended at 10 A.M. on the fifth day, and the jurors were escorted to their room to wait, while the judge and attorneys wrote the charge. When the gallery filled and all those involved reclaimed their seats about 1:00 P.M., Susan Shafer had a diagram scrawled on the courtroom's whiteboard, a spiderweb labeled MATT BAKER'S WEB OF LIES.
Referring to it throughout her closing, Shafer had written details around the edges, everything from "It's a staged scene," to the condition of Kari's body. "If she'd been flat on her back the way Baker had said, Kari wouldn't have more lividity in her left arm," Shafer said. "He can't even remember if she was asleep or awake."
Why did Shafer theorize that Matt committed the murder: "Kari was in the way of the life he envisioned for himself."
With that, Shafer told the jurors that they didn't have to like Vanessa Bulls. They didn't have to agree with what she'd done. Yes, she'd lied in the past, Shafer said. But there was corroborating evidence that backed up the key parts of her testimony, including the e-mail that proved Matt had made Kari a milk shake. Throughout, Matt stared at his hands as Shafer detailed his attempts to buy Ambien on the Net and retraced his day at his work computer, where he fluctuated between looking up stories to ill.u.s.trate sermons, e-mailing his wife and saying he loved her, and scouring online pharmacies to buy drugs to kill her.
"Kari left all the flags she could. She struggled for her life. She tried to get some air. And what she got for that was an abrasion on her nose. . . . The last face she saw was his," Shafer said, pointing at Matt. "In spite of that, he told everyone, including their two daughters, that she committed suicide. Everything is about him."
Then Shafer instructed the jurors: "Look at Matt Baker and tell him that you understand what he did, and you're not going to let him get away with it. Look at him and tell him that you're not going to let him carry on his dirty little lie. Convict him."
"It's your job to determine who you're going to believe and what you're going to believe." Gray's cocounsel, Harold Danford, told jurors. After recounting bits and pieces of the evidence, Danford attacked where the prosecutors knew the case was the most vulnerable, first at the medical examiners' testimony. "If you look at that autopsy report, there are three other doctors who sign off on it," Danford said. "Three of them sign it, and they can't find a cause of death. The most important thing is that he didn't say this was a homicide."
Secondly, Danford, a large, bulkily built man, set his sights on the second weak link. "The whole thing comes down to Vanessa-full-of-Bulls."
With that Gray took over and agreed, at times bl.u.s.tering, his emotions running high. "You are required to find proof that Kari was administered drugs and smothered by a pillow. In essence, this means you have to believe Vanessa Bulls," he told the jurors. "In all of the extra work the prosecutors did, in hiring expert witnesses, it really comes down to, what is the scientific proof?"
As if confiding in the men and women in the jury box, Gray said he had doubts about the state's case. First: They had no proof that Kari's death was a homicide. Second, he referred to a palm print on the suicide note, one that hadn't been traced back to any of the witnesses or Matt. Was it Kari's? If so, wasn't that evidence that she'd typed it. But was it? Vanessa had said Matt rubbed Kari's hand over the note.
"I'm not particularly proud of Matt Baker. I told you in the beginning, he had an affair, and he lied about it. And he lied about it many times. That's why he's in this spot, because he kept lying. . . . But I think Vanessa Bulls is at least as bad," Gray then said. "She may be pathological. . . . Lying and then coming along and saying 'I'm gonna turn clean, but it's gonna be in stages' and then lying to the grand jury and then changing it again . . . and then coming into the courtroom and lying."
For Danford and Gray both, the bottom line was: "The only way you can get to the facts is by believing Vanessa Bulls." The question hung in the air: Was Bulls believable?
The last one up was Crawford Long who knew he had to rehabilitate Vanessa Bulls if the jurors were to accept her testimony. "First of all, I don't think there's any human being who has never told a lie. . . . Are all of us never to be believed . . . ? Of course not." When it came to Vanessa, the lead prosecutor said, "The lies she told were because she was trying to totally distance herself from the death of Kari . . . Does anything she said make her look good? . . . Do you think she came in here to commit job suicide? Do you think she'll get anything out of that? Everything she told you makes her look worse, and that's how you know it's true." With a slight shrug, he then admitted: "Everyone is repulsed by what Vanessa Bulls told us."
With that, Long focused on the man on trial, asking why Matt hadn't given police the home computer he'd repeatedly promised? That computer could have cleared him if Kari had written the note while he was gone. Why hadn't he produced it? Because Matt was the one who'd typed the suicide note, not Kari.
His emotion building, Long said: "You know, ladies and gentlemen, people kill their spouses. It's hard for us to accept, but they do. This defendant has held himself out as a minister. This defendant perverted what's good and holy."
Turning to Kari's Bible, Long then read her plea to G.o.d to protect her from harm. "She's speaking to you from the grave," he said, his voice softer. "She's telling you what she knew, and was afraid of, what her husband was going to do to her. Folks, we can't protect Kari Baker from harm. The only thing we can do now is give her justice."
At that, Long turned and pointed at Matt Baker: "I ask you to convict this murdering minister and find him guilty for one reason only. Because he is guilty."
At 2:20 that afternoon, the jurors left to begin deliberating. From that point on, the room slowly emptied, as many milled through the courthouse, talking, wondering what was going on behind the closed doors of the jury room. Barbara appeared calm sitting in the courtroom, and Matt looked as unfl.u.s.tered, saying h.e.l.lo to reporters and those gathered, as if he were greeting them as they entered one of his churches. To one he said, "I know I'm going home to my girls tonight."
Meanwhile, Linda and her family congregated in the courthouse break room, away from prying eyes, praying for the justice Long had referred to. They'd had their days in court, the trial Linda, Jim, Lindsey, Nancy, and Kay, Bennett, McNamara, Cawthon, Rodriguez, and Johnston had worked so hard to ensure, but would the jurors believe Vanessa Bulls? Would they trust her enough to find Matt Baker guilty?
While so many waited, a rumor flitted through the courthouse, one that turned out to be true, that after her testimony, Vanessa Bulls had been put on administrative leave from her job as a teacher.
Four hours and twenty minutes after they began deliberating, the jurors sent out a note that asked whether they could exclude "suffocating her with a pillow" or if they had to find both that Baker drugged Kari and suffocated her. The judge's response referred them to the jury charge, and deliberations continued, but Shafer and Long worried. "We were afraid they'd get hung up on it, and jurors wouldn't be able to agree to both," says Shafer.
At 9:11 that evening, the courtroom filled, but it would turn out that it wasn't to hear the verdict. Instead, Gray presented a motion, one asking for a mistrial based on conflicts in Vanessa Bulls's testimony. The jurors had asked for portions of it to be given them in writing. "Vanessa Bulls's testimony is obviously giving the jurors problems," he said. Judge Strothers denied the request.
Then twenty-eight minutes later, word was sent out that the jury had reached a verdict. Although it was late, the courtroom quickly filled. Matt stood with his attorneys at the defense table, and in the gallery, Jim again put his arm protectively around Linda.
"We find the defendant guilty."
The room was somber. The judge had warned against any outbursts, and the jury was cleared. At the defense table, Matt didn't cry, instead looking as if, despite his earlier bravado, he'd expected the outcome. He glanced at his mother, who wore that same taut smile, as if she'd expected it as well. Moments later, two guards walked Matt from the courtroom to be taken to jail, while in the audience, Linda and Jim Dulin and many in their family cried.
The punishment phase began early the next morning, with a range from probation to life. Death wasn't an option since Texas law limits the ultimate penalty to cases involving either a second felony, like burglary, rape, or multiple murders, or a crime that includes special circ.u.mstances, such as the killing of an on-duty police officer or firefighter, or a child under the age of six.
Again, witnesses took the stand, at first those called by the prosecutors. Many of them were the women Matt Baker had made improper s.e.xual advances to over the years, including Lindsey's friend at the hospital, a young woman Matt accosted at the Y, and Dina Ahrens, Matt's high-school girlfriend, who'd had to fight him off one evening.
Afterward, Noel Kersh again took the stand, this time to detail Matt's Web history on both his church and work computer linked to p.o.r.nographic and dating Web sites like bustydustystash.com, collegewildparties.com, www.americansingles.com, s.e.xlist.com, and iwantanewgirlfriend.com.
To counter the testimony, the defense put up Sharon Rollins, a licensed counselor who'd grown up with Matt. With an air of certainty, Rollins dismissed the idea that Matt Baker could have done what he was convicted of and referred to him as "a fine pastor . . . A man of G.o.d." On the stand, Dr. Theron Hawkins, who knew the Bakers from Trinity Baptist, said Matt came from an "outstanding family that makes service to others their main mission."
"Let me ask you, does a good father kill their children's mother?" Crawford Long asked Kerri Spartman, who'd known Matt growing up. She'd called him "one of the good guys" and described Matt's relationship with Kensi and Grace in glowing terms. "I think it's possible," Spartman answered. "I think you could do that. I think you can be a good father and do other things, too."
The defense rested, and the prosecutors introduced a final witness, Lora Wilson Mueller. A meteorologist with the National Weather Service, she'd flown in from New York to finally accuse Matt Baker from the witness stand, to hold him accountable for his actions nineteen years earlier in Baylor's football stadium. Describing that harrowing day, Wilson cried softly at times. "I came here to face him, and do right by Kari," she said. When asked if the attack had affected her life, she said, "Absolutely."
The testimony completed, the attorneys again argued before the jurors. Crawford Long called for them to put Baker behind bars. "Women aren't really worth much to him. This is a person who thought about killing his wife . . . He robbed her of her life when she was a young woman. Why did he do it? . . . Ministers don't get divorced. I think the word for it is a religious word. Out of his religion. It's evil." Long again pointed at Matt Baker, this time saying directly to him: "I can look you in the eye and say, because of your heartless, soulless conduct, you deserve the maximum sentence."
Guy James Gray didn't take the floor. Instead, Harold Danford did, talking about "the good Matt Baker," the one who did community service and helped others, from a good Baptist family. The state searched high and low to bring you all the bad stuff they could about Mr. Baker's life. . . . He did some things he's not proud of," Danford acknowledged.
Bringing the arguments to an end, Susan Shafer took the floor for the last time. She labeled Baker a narcissist and a sociopath, one who'd victimized women, one who plotted and carried out the murder of a wife who loved him. "We want to send a message to any men out there who are like Matt-and I don't think there are many. You can't just erase a life and be out with a slap on the wrist."
The jury had been out more than seven hours to determine that Matt Baker was guilty, but they showed little hesitation about his sentence. Just two and a half hours later, they returned. Their verdict: sixty-five years.
When Judge Strother asked if there was any legal reason the sentence shouldn't be imposed, Matt Baker said a very curious thing. He didn't say, "I'm innocent. I didn't kill my wife." Instead, Baker looked at the judge, and said, "I truly believe in my innocence. I believe the jury made a mistake."
Vanessa had testified that Matt told her G.o.d was all forgiving and that He condoned adultery and had absolved him for murdering Kari. Could Matt have believed that the judge was supposed to forgive him as well? He didn't, and Matt Baker was summarily sentenced to sixty-five years in a Texas prison.
Minutes later, Linda walked up to the witness stand. She began by asking Matt to look at her, but he appeared unable to. His head sank down, as if ashamed. "You took her from us, Matt. You discarded her like she was yesterday's trash. You murdered the mother of your children. . . . You took Kensi and Grace's mother, then fed them lies. . . . Thank goodness this journey doesn't end here. . . . You see, Matt, you were never going to win this one. You spent your life preying on innocent people. . . . But love trumps evil. Do you hear me, Matt? Love trumps evil."
For a moment, Linda was quiet. Then she said, "When I see Kari again, she's going to run toward me and knock me over and smother me with kisses. . . . G.o.d told us He would never forsake us, and He hasn't. We have felt His arms around us through this entire process. . . . We are blessed. So, what do we do now? Well, first we thank G.o.d for bringing us here to this place. . . . But next, Jim and I commit our lives to Kensi and Grace. . . . We can't give them back their mother, but we want, more than anything in this world, for them to be whole and healthy. You poisoned them. You taught them to hate. But it won't last.
"You have to spend many years in prison," she continued. "What you did was horrific. It was horrific, Matt. And I believe you're capable of much more evil." As Linda spoke, Matt shook his head, but she didn't pause. " . . . We forgive because that's the only way, Matt." And then, once again, she said, "Love trumps evil."
What forces shape a murderer, a man willing to kill the mother of his children? Before long, another trial loomed, one that would perhaps shed light into the darkness that was Matt Baker, one that suggested possible answers to that very question and exposed even more dirty little secrets.
Before he was led off to prison, Matt had already put into place Grace's and Kensi's futures. Just before his trial, he'd signed over temporary guardianship to his parents, Oscar and Barbara. The girls, it would seem, were destined to grow up in the same house and in the same atmosphere that had sp.a.w.ned Matt. Linda and Jim had been expecting this, yet they were concerned.
It was on the Dulins' first weekend visitation after the trial, in February 2010, that they sat down with Kensi and Grace and had what they'd later refer to as "the talk." That day, both girls were upset, blaming Jim and Linda for their father's plight. Calmly, Jim explained that they weren't the ones who'd ruled that Matt had murdered their mother, and they also weren't the ones who'd sentenced him to jail. "A jury of twelve did that," Jim said. "They looked at the evidence and weighed the facts, not us."
Understandable for a child who'd been through so much, Kensi appeared preoccupied with her personal situation, worried about even more change in her young life. "All I want to say is I do not want to move to Waco. If you really want us to be happy, leave us in Kerrville," the then-nearly-fourteen-year-old insisted.
It would, of course, have been easiest and less expensive simply to agree. The Dulins were not wealthy people and had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the investigation and wrongful death suit. Their financial resources had dwindled. Yet Linda feared that the consequences of leaving the girls in the Baker household could be devastating. She felt certain that the girls were being told that their father was innocent, and from talking to them, she knew that they were being fed hope in the form of a.s.surance that the appeal Matt had filed would be granted, and he'd soon return home. That wasn't all. There was that ever-widening emotional gulf between Jim and Linda and the girls. When they picked up the girls from Kerrville for their once-a-month visits, especially Kensi seemed resentful and angry. It was only as they drove away from Oscar and Barbara's influences that their granddaughters relaxed. "We believed that the Bakers were teaching Kensi and Grace to hate us," says Linda. "Rather than trying to protect them, the Bakers were putting the girls in the middle."
It wasn't that the Dulins weren't willing to find a way to collaborate with the Bakers. In fact, Linda e-mailed Barbara and asked to meet to discuss ways they could work together for the good of the girls. The Dulins wanted to see Kensi and Grace in counseling, with the help they needed to come to terms with all that had happened. "We're all adults," Linda stressed in one e-mail to Barbara. "A custody battle won't be good for the girls. Can't we cooperate?"
Barbara responded by not responding, ignoring the suggestion that for the sake of the girls they put aside their differences, at least to try to mend their granddaughters' ruptured lives.
The result was that a little more than a month after the end of the murder trial, the Dulins formally filed for custody. The court system, however, moves slowly. Months pa.s.sed, then a year, as the girls continued to live with the Bakers, growing up in Kerrville, making friends, going to school, and earning good grades. On the surface, they did well, but were they really? As part of the custody action, a house study was done, lawyers for both sides filed motions, and a therapist was appointed to a.s.sess the two sets of grandparents, Kensi and Grace, and the children's best interests. An attorney ad litem, Beverly Crowden, a woman with cropped reddish hair and an intense manner, was appointed by the court to represent the girls.
One of the first actions of Darren Obenoskey, the tall, sandy-haired Waco civil attorney the Dulins hired, was to file a subpoena for recordings of all Matt's prison phone calls and copies of his e-mails and letters. Meanwhile, John Bennett helped find Obenoskey a Kerrville private investigator to a.s.sist him. Nicknamed Batgirl for her resolve when working a case, Gina Frenzel was a middle-aged mom with long, dark hair and a brash manner. Once she'd hired on, Frenzel recommended a Kerrville attorney named Pat Maguire, a dark-haired former prosecutor. Maguire and Frenzel had both grown up in Kerrville and gone to Tivy High School with Matt, but they remembered little about him.
Her investigation began, and on Gina's desk, a file on the Dulins' custody case grew as she interviewed those in Kerrville who knew Oscar and Barbara. The hardest part, but they all agreed the most important, was determining what the Bakers were truly like. While Matt continued to insist his parents were the G.o.d-fearing, upright churchgoers they were known as in Kerrville, Gina suspected there was more to discover. How could they find out? Everyone involved believed the answer was to look into the seven years Matt's parents ran the Buckner Baptist Benevolences home.
The first thing Frenzel did was search for records from the foster home covering the time period the Bakers ran it. But the facility had closed more than a decade earlier, and after subpoenaing records from the state of Texas and the Baptist Benevolences, they came away empty-handed. Both ent.i.ties responded to the requests by saying all the records had been destroyed. That left only one possibility: Frenzel set out to find the former foster children, those who'd lived inside the home. That wasn't easy. The residents had spread far and wide over the past thirty years. Since she'd grown up in the Kerrville area, however, Frenzel had a network of contacts. At first, nothing happened, but she kept searching. Eventually she'd track down nearly thirty of the by-then-middle-aged former foster children. About twenty of those agreed to talk to her, and the accounts Frenzel heard were consistent, describing Barbara Baker as demanding and often demeaning with her young charges. What about Oscar, the mystery man who'd never made an appearance at his son's murder trial? In early 2011, Frenzel found a group of women who had horrifying stories to tell.
Aware of what the private investigator had discovered, on July 6, 2011, the day the custody trial finally began, Linda and Jim were even more anxious about its outcome. A year and a half after Matt had disappeared behind prison bars, he was again seated in a wood-paneled courtroom, this one in downtown Kerrville. In khakis, a pressed brown sport coat and shirt, his hands were cuffed and his ankles shackled.
In the 198th District Court presided over by Judge Robert Barton, a soft-spoken, grandfatherly man, Linda and Jim sat behind their attorneys, Obenoskey and Maguire, with Frenzel on their right. Left front in the courtroom Barbara, Oscar, and Matt conferred with a small battalion of their own lawyers: a short woman with a stark black French twist named Pamela King, representing Matt; a tall man named Fred Henneke, his thick mop of curly hair graying, representing Barbara and Oscar; and Crowden, the girls' attorney ad litem. By then, Crowden had made it clear to the Dulins that Kensi and Grace didn't want to live with them and that she intended to do all she could to help them remain with the Bakers.
Beginning opening statements, Pat Maguire stood at the lectern facing the jury, laying out in skeleton form what he and Obenoskey expected to show, first filling the jurors in on why they were all there: because Matt Baker had murdered his wife. "He was a Baptist minister," Maguire said. "He's a wolf in sheep's clothing . . . he used a facade to manipulate."
Maguire then described the abyss between the girls and the Dulins. No longer did they call them Grammy and Paw-paw, but Linda and Jim. Why? Maguire called it a "severe form of emotional abuse" fostered by the Bakers, one that multiplied the damage done to the girls by cutting them off from grandparents who loved them. As he spoke, Maguire described the Bakers as manipulative and said that they'd worked to alienate the girls from the Dulins. When it came to the court-ordered home study and social worker, Maguire explained that both experts had filed reports contending that the girls should live not with Matt's parents but with Kari's.
In their a.r.s.enal, Maguire and Obenoskey had among the subpoenaed material devastating ammunition, including letters in which Matt urged Kensi to write to and talk on the phone with one of his fellow inmates, a convicted murderer. And there was more. The Dulins' attorneys were prepared to expose the Bakers as very unlike the way they presented themselves to the world. For on the witness list were six of their former foster children, who Maguire said would testify about s.e.xual and emotional abuse suffered at the hands of Oscar and Barbara. "You will hear evidence of dark secrets in the Baker family," he said. "Is that how Matt Baker became the way he is today?"
The three attorneys on the opposite side of the courtroom then countered those claims. The Bakers' attorney, Henneke, maintained that his clients were fine people and wonderful role models for their grandchildren. King, Matt's attorney, admitted that her client had made errors in judgment, especially when it came to the murderer he'd set up as Kensi's pen pal, yet that wasn't the problem. Instead, she blamed the rift between the families on the Dulins' wrongful death suit. Why were the girls angry with the Dulins? Because Kensi and Grace shared Oscar and Barbara's belief that Matt was innocent. "The hope factor," King said, was all the girls had, their conviction that their father would one day be cleared and set free.
The staunchest advocate was Crowden, the girls' attorney, who argued pa.s.sionately that it would be a grave injustice to remove the girls from Kerrville and the Baker home. Why? Kensi and Grace didn't want to live with the Dulins. The girls had family, friends, and a support system in Kerrville. The girls had people who accepted them. All three of the Bakers' attorneys, King, Henneke, and Crowden, pleaded with the jurors not to uproot the girls, who by then were fifteen and nearly eleven. "Kensi and Grace have already lost a sister, a mother, and a father. Don't take this from them, too," Crowden said. "To stay in Kerrville is their deepest desire."
At that point, the testimony began. Much of that first day would be taken up with Maguire's examination of Matt, during which the ex-minister sat at the witness table with his attorney beside him, as often as not taking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to answer even basic questions. His parents, he insisted, were wonderful, loving people, the perfect ones to raise his daughters. He refused to answer any questions involving Vanessa Bulls or the events surrounding the murder, but he did admit after Maguire pushed the topic that arranging for Kensi to be a pen pal with another convicted murderer could be viewed as a mistake.
On the stand, Matt denied working to eradicate his wife's memory or separate his girls from his former in-laws, saying that he believed the girls still loved Jim and Linda. "Do you think erasing the girls' memories of their mother would be harmful to the girls?" Maguire asked.
"If that happened, yes," Matt agreed.
What became quickly apparent was that even from prison, Matt remained a big part of his daughters' lives. He called three times a week, talking for fifteen minutes each time, and wrote often. In his long letters, he a.s.sured them that he'd be home soon.
"Do you believe false hope is good . . . do you believe it's healthy to lie to your daughters?" Maguire asked.
Yet, Matt insisted that he wasn't lying, that he believed his appeals would set him free.
"This all revolves around you," Maguire charged.
"I believe it is good for my daughters, too," he said.
"Someone who kills their wife would not be a fit parent, would they?" Maguire said. Again, Matt took the Fifth. He did the same when asked about the fitness of a parent who had s.e.xually abused children.
For Matt's cause, the most devastating exhibits would be the letters he'd written to Kensi, Grace, and his parents, who he called Gma and Gpa. While he maintained he wanted the girls to have a relationship with Kari's parents, his letters belied that. Instead, he warned the girls to stick together and protect themselves when they were at the Dulins, as if their maternal grandparents presented a threat. And he cautioned his daughters to confide in his mother, who was trying to "help me out and protect you" from Linda and Jim.
When asked why the girls had to be protected from their maternal grandparents, Matt claimed that his daughters feared the Dulins, citing as a reason the Mother's Day after Kari's death, when Linda had talked with Kensi in the bedroom. In his current version, Linda grabbed her oldest granddaughter's arm hard enough to bruise her, then shook her and locked her in a bedroom, despite the fact that those who'd been there had said that never happened. And he accused the Dulins of an "onslaught," with their fight to bring him into a courtroom to answer for Kari's murder.
Yet that wasn't all of it; in some of the letters, he detailed for his daughters what they "had" to say to the judge and everyone involved if they wanted to stay in Kerrville, which "I BELIEVE YOU BOTH DO!" he typed, all in caps.
"It reads like you might be coaching," Maguire said. But Matt said it was all predicated on the girls' desire to remain with his parents.
Letter after letter, Matt warned the girls to be careful and to tell Barbara what transpired on the visits to Waco. Over and over, he said that he knew the girls didn't want to go and predicted that their time with their maternal grandparents would be "horrible." Maguire asked if Matt wasn't keeping the girls from enjoying their visits by making it disloyal for them to do so. But Matt said he was only repeating how he knew the girls felt.