News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 1, 2013

Judge announces mistrial in 1979 homicide case; new trial for Boswell to start April 1

TERRE HAUTE — A mistrial declared Thursday in a 1979 homicide case will bring a Riley man back to Vigo Superior Court 6 for a new trial on April 1.

Richard L. Boswell Jr., 55, will again go on trial for the May 1979 strangulation murder of Kathy Jo Baker, and the attempted murder of her then-2-year-old son, Ryan, in a rural area near their Riley home in southeastern Vigo County.

Judge Michael Lewis declared the mistrial after a prosecution witness made a statement in front of the jury that indicated Boswell served a prison sentence for homicide, which was untrue.

An immediate objection by defense attorney Luther Garcia relied upon an earlier motion that restricted the prosecution from making any reference to the nature of Boswell’s prior conviction for criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement. Boswell was sentenced to 30 years in that case, and was released from prison in June 2006.

Jodie Bennett, an inmate at Michigan City serving two 50-year murder sentences, had been transported to the Division 6 courtroom and was being questioned by trial deputy Dan McGlone in front of the seven-man, five-woman jury about how he met Boswell in prison when Bennett said, “He told me he had killed another woman.”

With the jury quickly recessed out of the courtroom, Garcia argued to Judge Lewis that any attempts to clarify Bennett’s statement would reveal that defendant Boswell had been convicted of rape, and that would prejudice the jury against Boswell.

“He has jammed an evidentiary harpoon right into the middle of this case,” Garcia said of Bennett.

McGlone stated that Bennett had been instructed not to mention Boswell’s prior conviction, only to state that Boswell had confessed to the Baker murder while in prison.

Lewis announced the mistrial after taking a brief recess to consider the issue.

Following the mistrial, the jury was dismissed.

Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt said in a noontime media conference that the mistrial is frustrating to all of the attorneys involved and to the Baker family.

“This is a very important case,” Modesitt said. “It’s a cold case the family has had to live with for more than 30 years. We’re trying to bring justice in this case.”

Modesitt said it was unknown whether the prosecution would try to use Bennett again as a witness, considering that his statement resulted in the mistrial.

“The info he had we thought was valuable,” Modesitt said. “We will have to discuss that.”

“I’m very disappointed that Mr. Boswell has to wait another 90 days because of the state’ witness,” Garcia told the Tribune-Star after the mistrial. “It’s going to cost this county that much more energy and funds to see a resolution to this case.”

Until his new trial, Boswell will remain held without bond in the Vigo County Jail, where he has been housed since his October 2010 arrest on charges of murder and attempted murder. DNA evidence on a T-shirt that Kathy Baker had been wearing when she died was matched to Boswell.

Before the mistrial was declared, the fourth day of the trial began with Garcia’s cross-examination of Detective Tony Guinn of the Indiana State Police, with a focus on another possible suspect in the case.

Guinn said he had been given the cold-case file from 1979, and he reviewed all of the information, including the statements of Louis “Buddy” Riley. The file indicates that Riley had told investigators during an interview that he may have killed Baker, but he did not remember because he had used illegal drugs.

Garcia pointed out that Riley was convicted of two other crimes against women -- rape and criminal deviate conduct -- in both Clay and Vigo counties in 1980. Those crimes occurred in the same area as the Baker murder, Garcia said, and within nine months of the crimes against the young Vigo County mother and her child.

Garcia asked why Guinn did not consider Riley a suspect when the case was reopened 30 years later.

Guinn replied that the investigators at the time did not feel that Riley’s statements about the Baker murder were reliable, and also because Riley died in 1991 and could not be questioned when the case was reopened.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

 

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