By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Eight years have passed and a man who committed one of the most heinous crimes in Madison County history still remains on death row.
Fredrick Michael Baer, 41, bides his time in Michigan City State Prison and waits for the appeal process on his death penalty conviction to work in his favor or expire. It’s not a short process, and there are still several steps to go. Either way, Baer will likely spend the rest of his days in prison.
It’s something he’s recently acknowledged he deserves. In a video released in January, British reporter Trevor McDonald visited Baer in Michigan City to talk about his experience on death row. In the video, Baer disclosed the details of the murders and admitted that he deserves the death penalty.
Baer was convicted of the grisly slayings of Lapel resident Cory Clark, 26, and her daughter Jenna, 4, in their home on Feb. 25, 2004. According to reports on the incident, Baer left his place of work, drove to Lapel and talked his way into Clark’s home with the intention of raping her. His plans changed somehow, and Baer instead cut Clark’s and the preschooler’s throats.
Baer had previously denied committing the crimes to police and in media interviews.
Sam Hanna, now Elwood chief of police, was the lead homicide investigator at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department at the time, and he tracked down Baer in less than an hour after the murder. It’s still a source of pride for Hanna.
“I’ve worked a lot of cases, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but a man like Fred Baer and what he did, it’s the sort of thing you never forget,” Hanna said.
Baer was also suspected of being a serial rapist. Hanna and investigators found a box of “trophy items” in Baer’s vehicle believed to have come from each victim, and it helped lead to rape convictions in Hamilton and Marion counties in addition to the murder conviction. Hanna said he still believes Baer is worthy of the death penalty, and wouldn’t be surprised if there was still something Baer hasn’t come clean about.
The aggravating circumstances surrounding the case led the jury to evoke the death penalty, a relative rarity in Indiana. Because the punishment is the most severe possible, the burden of proof is also high, and the appeal process is long and ends at the federal level. Both nationally and in Indiana, death penalty sentences and executions have decreased drastically since 1977. The last criminal executed by Indiana was Matthew Eric Wrinkles, the 20th person executed in Indiana’s history, in 2009.
Baer is still working on appeals to avoid becoming the 21st.
In the video, Baer said he is nearing exhaustion of his appeals, but Mark Maynard, one of Baer’s former attorneys, said the process still has a few steps. Maynard said the appellate review for Baer is currently in its third and final level, which is federal habeas corpus review. This stage focuses on federal constitutional issues, unlike the first two that happen at the state level. If all appeals are lost, a final plea to the governor for clemency can be made.
Maynard said the next step for Baer would be the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals out of Chicago, and he said it could still be a few years before Baer is executed even if he loses every appeal.
Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.