By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. —
Fredrick Michael Baer has an envelope in his cell at the Indiana State Prison.
Inside the envelope is a letter to his attorneys, asking them to terminate the appeals process in his death penalty case. The letter lies waiting, waiting for its author to muster the courage to take that last step toward the death chamber.
Baer has been on death row for more than eight years, and if the appeals process continues through every step, it could be another eight years.
He lives in a hell he created, and he says he deserves to die.
In 2004, Baer talked his way into a Lapel area home, where he attempted to rape 26-year-old Cory Clark. She resisted, and he slit her throat. Then he turned the knife on her 4-year-old daughter, Jenna.
After he was arrested for the crimes, Baer denied his guilt with the fierce defiance of a belligerent young man. Eight years later, he appears two decades older. Short and thin, Baer wears eyeglasses with antique frames. His head is shaved. Tattoos mark his neck and arms.
During an interview at the state prison Tuesday with The Herald Bulletin, he spoke softly, emotionally. Shackles and chains restrained him from ankles to wrists, but he could not contain his emotional agony. Long pauses and deep breaths interrupted the interview. Baer choked back tears and turned away from the camera in shame and regret.
“[I think about it] Every day ... every day,” Baer sobbed. “I’m so sorry ... so sorry.”
During the trial in 2005, Baer was exposed as a thief, a serial rapist and, finally, a double murderer. The gruesome gravity of his last offense brought the death penalty, an increasing rarity in the Hoosier state.
The final crime
Baer was working at a construction site in Anderson on the afternoon of Feb. 25, 2004. He was suffering withdrawal from methamphetamine. Anxiety hammered in his head. Sweat seeped from his skin despite the February chill. With evil intent, Baer left work early to drive someplace. Any place to rob. Any woman to rape.
He drove to Lapel and parked near two homes. He approached one house and knocked on the door. A woman answered but cautiously kept Baer from looking inside. He asked to use her phone.
“She brought me the phone, but I was trying to get in. So I dialed something and gave her the phone back,” Baer recalls.
Down the road, he spotted a woman moving boxes outside. It was Cory Clark, wife of John Clark and mother of Jenna and Morgan. Her husband was in Florida looking for a job, and her older daughter Morgan was at school.
Baer walked over and knocked on Clark’s door.
“A little girl answered the door,” Baer said. “She went to get her mother, and I asked if I could use the phone.”
Cory Clark went to get her phone without noticing Baer was following her inside. She turned around and started to scream.
“I told her, ‘Don’t scream.’ ... Everything fell apart from there,” Baer says between long pauses. “I tried to rape her ... I killed her ... I cut her throat ...”
Baer won’t talk about the murder of Jenna Clark. Investigators believe Jenna ran from the room in terror. Baer followed the girl and killed her.
“They didn’t deserve to die,” Baer says through tears. “I don’t know why I did it. But every day I’ve thought about it ... for the past eight years. ... All the pain I’ve caused. All the hurt I’ve caused.
“I remember the words of [Cory Clark’s] mother on the witness stand: ‘Why?’ And I’ve asked that every day for the past eight years.”
The Herald Bulletin’s attempts to contact the victims’ family for this article were unsuccessful.
Baer says he recently observed his two victims’ birthdays, which were in March. He has the dates marked on a calendar in his cell.
He says he’s haunted by unanswerable questions. Where did things go wrong? How could things have been different? Why did I kill? Why am I still alive?
Before the murders
Baer was born Oct. 19, 1971, and grew up in Indianapolis. He and his sister, Evelyn, were adopted by their stepfather. Baer never knew his real father. He remembers his mother and stepfather as loving, for the most part. Baer says he never went hungry.
When he was a boy he dreamed of following in his stepfather’s footsteps and joining the Army. He said the brotherhood of the Army appealed to him, and he hoped a career in the military would help him see the world.
In 1983, Evelyn was murdered by her ex-husband, tragically culminating a turbulent and abusive relationship. Evelyn’s death was a turning point for Baer, who was not yet a teenager, and his entire family.
After Evelyn’s death, Baer says, his stepfather started to abuse alcohol and became mentally and physically abusive. Baer says his mother withdrew as a parent. Baer struggled to concentrate in school. He was hyperactive, fidgety and acted out to get attention. By the end of high school, he was abusing drugs.
He turned to thievery to support his addiction to methamphetamine, an increasingly popular, insidious and highly-addictive psychostimulant. While living in Knox County around 2000, Baer was continually in and out of jail. By 2002, he faced charges for drug trafficking and possession, probation violations, thefts, robberies, resisting law enforcement, escape and battery.
The Knox County prosecutor’s office offered a plea agreement of 18 months in prison, foregoing a habitual offender charge that could have increased Baer’s sentence.
From Baer’s perspective, his quick release from prison was an opportunity. He got married and found a job in the work-release program. But the temptations of the past soon overwhelmed the new life Baer sought to forge. His wife, he says, was a negative influence, and he began stealing to finance his drug addiction.
He also started raping, finding random targets and using the ruse of needing to use a telephone to talk his way into women’s homes. After the murder conviction, investigators found in Baer’s home “trophies,” items taken from the homes of his victims. The evidence led to rape charges in Marion and Hamilton counties.
Baer’s insatiable appetite for rape, fueled in part by his drug addiction, escalated toward the tragedy of Feb. 25, 2004.
The death penalty
Baer lives in a cell in a tall, brick building on the campus of the Indiana State Prison less than half a mile from Lake Michigan. Surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, the prison holds more than 2,000 of Indiana’s most heinous criminals, including 10 other death row inmates.
This is Baer’s home, and it’s almost certainly where he’ll die. He’s next on the execution list.
When he will die is still uncertain.
Since 1977, 94 people have been sentenced to death by the State of Indiana. Twenty of those have been executed. In 54 cases, the death penalty was reversed by the state or by the courts in the appeals process. Eric Michael Wrinkles, the last person to be executed in Indiana, was put to death in 2009.
The appeals process for a death penalty inmate is long and expensive. Death penalty cases and the direct appeal process are estimated to cost about $450,000 — more than 10 times life-without-parole cases.
Beyond the cost of litigation, debate still rages about whether the death penalty is morally defensible. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s nations have abolished capital punishment, including more than 30 in the past decade. In the United States, 33 states have the death penalty. But 13, including Indiana, have had no executions in the past five years. And during that time, five states have abolished capital punishment.
What was once considered a staple of justice systems is gradually becoming a relic. Still, a 2011 Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of Americans support the death penalty.
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, who tried the Baer case in 2005, said if there’s one person in Indiana who should be put to death, it’s Baer.
Baer isn’t arguing against it anymore.
“So many people’s lives have been destroyed because of what I’ve done. All I can do is hope one day the family might forgive me, if that’s even possible,” Baer says. “I know they think about it. ... I can’t stop thinking about it ...
“I don’t expect them to forgive me. I don’t expect them to understand, because I don’t really understand. There’s no reason for a person to do that to another person.”
Baer believes he deserves to die. He believes death offers the only release from his constant regret and self loathing. He says he doesn’t know why he continues the appeals process. He claims he doesn’t fear death.
“I have the paperwork ready to be dropped in the mail any day,” Baer says of the letter that sits in his cell, waiting to be mailed to his attorneys, waiting to stop the waiting. “I live day by day. Death is just a transition for me at this point.”
Waiting in prison
For the past eight years, Baer has been on a standard death row inmate schedule at the Indiana State Prison. He and the 10 other death row prisoners are sequestered in a separate cell area, away from the general population. They have limited interaction with one another.
Baer usually wakes up about 3 a.m. and checks through his belongings. Breakfast comes an hour later.
Starting about 6 a.m., Baer is allowed four hours of time outside his cell to shower, go outside or exercise. The rest of the time is spent in his cell. Baer occupies himself by watching television and caring for his cat, Lucky.
Keeping a pet is a privilege earned at the Indiana State Prison by inmates with good behavior. Baer says he’s not sure it’s a privilege he deserves, but Lucky has given him a sense of responsibility and something to look forward to each day.
Baer is trying to find answers for what he’s done, so he has sought medical care. He’s been diagnosed as bipolar and takes four different medications daily to help stabilize his moods. Sometimes they help. Sometimes they don’t. He also sees a psychiatrist every Tuesday.
“I need answers. I need to understand why I did those things,” Baer says. “Normal people don’t do things like that. I don’t claim to be fine and normal, but I was raised with common sense.”
Baer claims to have embraced Christianity in prison. He has several Bibles in his cell. He says he prays regularly and asks for forgiveness, knowing his crimes could be unforgivable.
Baer has written letters to Clark’s family. But he says he can’t send them because he doesn’t know their mailing addresses. He intends to leave the letters to his attorneys, so they can be passed along after his death.
And Baer waits. He waits for the resolution of the appeals process — or for the day when he decides to give up and accept his fate.
“You try to forget the past. But you can’t,” Baer says. “You’re stuck in the present, and thinking about the future ... whatever future you have left.”
Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.