Kennedy Sentenced to Life with No Parole in Murder of Tausha Baker

| August 23, 2019


FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – Venango County President Judge Oliver Lobaugh sentenced Richard Kennedy to life in prison with no chance of parole on Thursday, August 22, in the 2017 death of Tasha Baker.

In a two week trial that ended on April 17, 2019, a jury found Kennedy guilty of a number of charges, including first-degree murder, in the death of Baker in Franklin.

During the spring trial, Venango County District Attorney Shawn White laid out a gruesome murder scene that had Kennedy beating Baker at a residence at 1313 New Street in Franklin, Pa., then taking her out to a spot on Waterworks Road where Kennedy then stabbed Baker in the upper torso area before dropping a basketball-size rock on Baker. He then dumped Baker’s body over a hillside in a dump area.

After driving back into Franklin to dispose of some of his and his then-girlfriend Amanda Cypher’s clothes and throwing the knife into the river, Kennedy returned to the dumpsite and lite Baker’s body on fire. He and Cypher then returned to Franklin before going back to the dumpsite a third time so he could light Baker’s body on fire a second time.

During the trial, Cypher testified against Kennedy after making a plea deal with the Commonwealth. On June 3, she was sentenced to time served – she had been in jail since the time of the murder – by Senior Judge H. William White (see full details of Cypher’s sentence below).

Kennedy was originally going to be sentenced May 30 but the sentencing was delayed for unknown reasons.

DETAILS OF THE MURDER

According to the case presented by White, sometime after 8:00 a.m. on October 27, 2017, Baker came to the house of 1313 New Street. As she and Cypher were entering the kitchen, Kennedy attacked Baker with a frying pan beating her in the head.

Cypher testified that Kennedy then tied Baker up and made her call Greg Militello – an acquaintance of Baker who was living in the same house that she and her father were living in at the time of the murder. Kennedy made Baker asked Militello, who told the jury he was selling crack, to procure more drugs and possibly money, and Cypher then went to the house Militello was staying at to get the drugs. When she returned, Kennedy brought Baker, who Cypher said was still alive at the time, out to a Ford Edge owned by Militello but being driven by Cypher – Militello wasn’t at the scene.

With Cypher driving and Kennedy riding in the backseat with Baker, Baker was taken to the spot on Waterworks Road. At that point, Cypher testified that she saw Kennedy stab Baker multiple times in the upper torso area. After stabbing Baker, Cypher said Kennedy then dropped a basketball-size rock on Baker before dumping Baker’s body over a hillside in a dump area.

The couple then drove towards Franklin stopping at Pioneer Cemetery where they hid some of their clothes, and Kennedy threw the knife into the river, according to Cypher. Cypher then said Kennedy stole a gas can and ordered her to drive back to the site where Baker’s body had been dumped. Once back at the site, Cypher said Kennedy lit the body of fire.

The duo then returned to Franklin and visited a couple of different locations including the house of Penny McCoy, where police found Kennedy’s Air Jordan sneakers hidden in an attic, a house owned by Tausha Baker’s father, Doug Baker, where Tausha Baker was living at the time of her death and where Militello was also staying in the basement, and then back to the 1313 New Street house.

Eventually, around 4:30 p.m., Kennedy and Cypher went back to the Waterworks Road site, and Cypher said Kennedy lit Baker’s body on fire again. The body was discovered a short time later by Polk firefighters who had been called to a scene of a suspected brush fire.

After burning Baker’s body a second time, Kennedy and Cypher returned to Franklin and were spotted by the residents of the 1313 New Street House, who had called police around 4:00 p.m. to report Baker as missing. While Cypher didn’t try to flee police, Kennedy evaded police until he was captured around 7:00 p.m. in the Arbor Circle area.

Neither Cypher nor Kennedy admitted to the killing of Baker during questioning by police on October 27 and October 28, 2017, but on December 22, 2017, Cypher asked to speak to the police. That is when she laid out most of the above story, which pretty much matched what she told the jury during the trial.

The prosecution also called Joseph Ibarra, who was a cellmate of Kennedy’s at the Venango County jail, and Ibarra testified that Kennedy had told him that he (Kennedy) had killed Baker.

Defense attorney’s Robert Kinnear and James Miller tried to argue that Cypher and not Kennedy was the real killer and hinged their case on the fact that the Commonwealth had sent neither the frying pan nor the rock away for DNA testing.

But, the testimony of both Cypher and Ibarra coupled with testimony from Militello, William Umstead, who was the primary renter of the 1313 New Street house, and Mark Daniels, who lived at 1313 New Street at the time of the murder, coupled with DNA evidence linking Kennedy to Baker and video evidence that collaborated other testimony about the whereabouts of both Kennedy and Cypher seemingly was enough to convince the jury in short order, as the jury took the case at 12:43 p.m. and said they had a verdict at approximately 3:30 p.m. That verdict was then delivered to the defendant by jury foreman John Martin at a little after 4:00 p.m.

In addition to first-degree murder, Kennedy was also found guilty of second-degree murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault causing bodily injury, aggravated assault causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon, possession of an instrument of crime, possession of a prohibited offensive weapon, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with physical evidence.

THE CHARGES

All definitions are based on what Lobaugh told the jury when he charged them and may not be completely what was said but are intended to give the reader a better understanding of each charge.

COUNT ONE: FIRST-DEGREE MURDER

Specific intent to kill – The defendant specifically intended to kill with malice and was conscious of his own intentions. No planning or thought is needed in advance. It can happen quickly, but the defendant had enough time to fully form intent and consciousness.

COUNT TWO: SECOND-DEGREE MURDER

Also known as felony murder, it’s killing in connection with a felony – in this case, both kidnapping and the two counts of aggravated assault. There need not be an intention to kill the victim, and the victim need not die immediately.

COUNT FOUR: AGGRAVATED ASSAULT CAUSING SERIOUS BODILY INJURY

The defendant caused serious bodily injury with a marked indifference to human life, and the action was intentional, knowing and reckless.

COUNT FIVE: AGGRAVATED ASSAULT CAUSING SERIOUS BODILY INJURY WITH A DEADLY WEAPON

The same as count four but causing said injuries with a deadly weapon.

COUNT SIX: KIDNAPPING

It can happen in one of two ways. One way is if a person unlawfully removes another person a substantial distance “under circumstances” from the place where he or she was located. The second way is if a person unlawfully confines another person for a “substantial” period of time in a place of “isolation.” Lobaugh, on request from counsel, said that the person had to be alive when they were either removed or confined.

COUNT SEVEN: POSSESSING AN INSTRUMENT OF CRIME

An instrument or object that is commonly used to commit a crime. In this case, Lobaugh specifically said the knife used to stab Baker and metal knuckles that Kennedy was said to be in possession of were examples of instruments of crime.

COUNT EIGHT: POSSESSING A PROHIBITED OFFENSIVE WEAPON

Metal knuckles are illegal to possess in Pennsylvania, according to Lobaugh.

COUNT NINE: ABUSE OF A CORPSE

Treating a corpse in a way that would outrage family sensibilities.

COUNT TEN: TAMPERING WITH PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

Lobaugh used the examples of hiding clothing and disposing of the bodies as ways that evidence can be tampered with.

Editor’s Note: Count three, third-degree murder, didn’t have to be voted on by the jury because they found Kennedy guilty of first-degree murder. If they had found Kennedy not guilty of first-degree murder then they would have had to vote on third-degree murder, which is the killing of a person with malice.

CYPHER SENTENCE

Cypher pleaded guilty to Abuse of a Corpse and Tampering With Physical Evidence, both second-degree misdemeanors.

She was ordered to 12 months less one day to 24 months less one day, $100.00 fine, and $1.00 restitution for the count of Abuse of a Corpse and six months to 24 months less one day, $100.00 fine, and $1.00 restitution for the count of Tampering With Physical Evidence plus fines and restitution.

White said the $1.00 restitution was to allow the possibility of restitution, so the amount can be changed at a later date.

The aggregate sentence is 18 months less two days to 48 months less three days. Cypher served 584 days in the Venango County Jail and was immediately paroled; however, she was transported to Butler County Jail to be resentenced on a parole revocation.


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