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Judge denies new venue | Pizza man will be tried in Island County
Robert “Al” Baker will go on trial for murder in Island County Superior Court despite publicity surrounding a case involving a pizza parlor and an Antarctic romance gone horribly wrong.
Baker, a 62-year-old Greenbank resident, appeared in court Friday morning with his attorney, Tom Pacher of Coupeville. He’s accused of murdering his wife, 53-year-old Kathie Baker, and dumping her tarp-wrapped body in a ravine behind their home last summer.
Pacher filed a motion for change of venue based on pre-trial publicity. He argued that the trial should be moved to Snohomish County because news stories may make it difficult to find impartial jurors.
Pacher presented 12 stories that have appeared in the Whidbey News-Times in the 18 months since the alleged murder. He pointed out that many of the stories also appeared in the South Whidbey Record.
“There’s more than just one part of the county that’s been saturated with publicity,” he said.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme said the motion is premature and should be considered only if the attorneys have trouble empaneling a jury.
Ohme pointed out that knowledge about a case from news coverage doesn’t disqualify a potential juror from serving. Under case law, jurors are only disqualified if “their opinions are so fixed so that they cannot be impartial.”
Judge Alan Hancock agreed with the prosecution and denied the motion.
“The articles in question are factual, good articles that are not inflammatory in any way,” he said.
“It was good, factual reporting about a case involving matters of public record,” he added.
Hancock said there’s no evidence that they will have any trouble finding jurors to serve. He said any partial jurors will be weeded out during the jury selection process.
“I will ensure that care will be taken in jury selection,” he said.
The attorneys also discussed the upcoming trial, which is set for Oct. 1. Pacher said he won’t be calling any character witnesses because it might open the door to evidence about Baker’s prior conviction of a sex crime.
According to court documents, Baker and his late wife met when they were working at a research station in Antarctica. They lived in a home in Greenbank and owned a pizza joint in Freeland.
A detective’s report on the case indicates that the motive for the murder may have been another woman. A woman from Alaska, whom he met in Antarctica, was staying with Al Baker at his Greenbank home after Kathie was killed, court documents state.
Kathie was last seen alive June 2. Deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office started investigating her disappearance after her boss at Raytheon Corporation in Denver reported that he couldn’t get hold of her.
After finding bloody drag marks in the house and getting contradictory stories from Al Baker about his wife’s whereabouts, detectives obtained a search warrant for the home and called in the state patrol’s Crime Scene Response Team to help process the scene, according to court documents.
Kathie’s body was found June 9. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head and ligature strangulation. Investigators found a ball-peen hammer with hair stuck to it in a garbage can in the garage.