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January 31, 2013

Pathologist: Homicide victim ‘throttled’

1979 cold case became hot when suspect’s ex-wife contacted police

TERRE HAUTE — Introduction of evidence took up the majority of testimony Wednesday in the murder trial of a 1979 homicide.

Richard L. Boswell Jr., 55, has been charged with the 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.

Boswell sat quietly in the courtroom of Vigo Superior Court 6 with his attorneys on Wednesday as the seven-man, five-woman jury heard testimony from pathologist Dr. Lawrence DeRenne, Baker’s former neighbor Eva Ray Knopp, and Indiana State Police who investigated the cold-case murder.

DeRenne, who was a pathologist at Terre Haute Regional Hospital from 1979 to mid-1980, reviewed his 1979 autopsy of Baker and explained how he ruled strangulation as the primary cause of Baker’s death. DeRenne said the 20-year-old Baker was “throttled” by someone’s right hand around the front part of her neck.

Knopp testified that she lived on Canal Road in 1979 and knew Kathy Baker and her husband, Kenneth, who lived about a mile south of her near Riley.

Knopp stated that she was questioned by police in 1979 about the Baker murder and told police she had seen a yellow Chevrolet Vega driven by Richard Boswell in the area for a couple of weeks prior to the murder. She also said that she saw Boswell’s car on Indiana 46 in a construction zone near the former Snack Shack restaurant near Riley at about noon on the day of the murder.

The woman said that she never heard from police about her statement until 2010 — more than 30 years later — when she was contacted by ISP detectives who had reopened the investigation.

ISP Trooper Hans Nowak testified how the cold case became active again when a woman contacted police in April 2008 to say she thought she knew who had killed Baker. That woman said she suspected her former husband of the murder and attempted murder, Nowak said, so he got out the file and determined that no arrest had ever been made in the case.

Nowak, who was a detective in 2008, said he also saw that none of the evidence collected in the case had ever been submitted to a laboratory for DNA analysis, so he contacted an evidence technician and asked for crime scene items such as Baker’s shirt to be checked for DNA.

In the meantime, Nowak said, he called in the person recently named as a suspect in the case, and the man gave a DNA sample that was also sent off for testing. In February 2009, Nowak said, the lab reported a DNA match for the biological father of Ryan Baker on the evidence, so Ken Baker supplied a DNA sample for testing.

In 2010, the ISP lab reported a DNA hit on the evidence for a person in the state’s database. That person, Richard Boswell Jr., had been mentioned in the original case file of the 1979 case, Nowak said.

However, since Nowak had returned to road patrol and was no longer a detective, the case was assigned to Master Trooper Detective Tony Guinn and Detective Sgt. Troy Stanton.

Guinn’s testimony lasted most of Wednesday afternoon and included the playing of recorded interviews between the detectives and Boswell, conducted in August and October 2010.

During those interviews, Boswell stated that he knew who Kathy Baker was because he was friends with her brothers. He also admitted driving Baker to her house one day about a year before she died to work on a lawnmower.

Boswell also told the detectives that in 1979 he drove a yellow Pontiac Astre, which is almost identical to a Chevrolet Vega — the car described by witness Knopp in 1979.

Boswell was arrested in October 2010 on a probable cause warrant for the murder of Baker and the attempted murder of her toddler son.

Guinn also testified that after the arrest, police were contacted by an inmate housed at the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City who said he had information about the Baker case. That inmate — Jodi Bennett — told police that he had been incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle in the early 1990s with Boswell, and that Boswell had talked about the Baker murder.

At that time, Boswell was serving a prison sentence for a conviction of criminal confinement and criminal deviate conduct. He was released from the Department of Correction in June 2006. Guinn said he confirmed that Boswell and Bennett — who is serving a life sentence for a double homicide — had been incarcerated together.

Bennett is one of the witnesses expected to testify today as the trial continues.

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

 

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