First Officers on the Scene Testify on Day One of Kennedy Trial for Baker Murder

| April 4, 2019

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – Jurors heard testimony from the first officers to respond to what eventually became the murder investigation of 25-year old Tausha Lee Baker during the first day of the murder trial of Richard Kennedy.

The trial started shortly after 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in the second-floor courtroom of the Venango County Courthouse after a jury of six men and six women along with four alternates (three men and a woman) were chosen over two-and-a-half days.

Kennedy is charged with first-degree murder along with 10 other charges in the death of Baker, who died on October 27, 2017, according to Venango County Judge Oliver Lobaugh.

Lobaugh read the charges to the jury, and they also included Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Murder (with Amanda Cypher, who is also charged in Baker’s death but is being tried separately); two counts of Aggravated Assault (one a Felony 1 count and the other a Felony 2 count); two counts of Kidnapping (one to Facilitate a Felony and one to Inflict Injury/Terror); Possession of an Instrument of Crime; Possession of a Weapon; Abuse of a Corpse; and Tampering With/Fabricating Evidence.

Amanda Cypher

The kidnapping charges stem from the accusation that Kennedy moved Baker, while she was still alive, to another location where she was killed.

The abuse of a corpse charge stems from the allegation that Kennedy burned Baker’s body to cover up the crime.

In his opening argument, Venango County District Attorney Shawn White laid out the case to the jurors telling them that police were called to 1313 New Street in Franklin around 4:00 p.m. on October 27, 2017, for a report of a missing person (Baker), and once there, they discovered evidence of a crime including blood in various locations in the bottom floor of the house and a frying pan outside of the house.

While at the house, White said that witnesses pointed to a pair of individuals they said they knew as “Mark” and “Amber,” but who were later discovered to be Kennedy and Cypher, walking in the area of the former Linda Lou’s Restaurant.

According to White, when a Franklin police officer, Lt. Kurt Gindhart, approached the couple, the man, later alleged to be Kennedy, ran from the scene while Cypher stayed.

About an hour-and-a-half after first responding to New Street, a body, which was later identified as Baker’s, was found burned, off of Waterworks Road near an area used for dumping.

White said shortly after that, a report came in of a “suspicious” African-American man with dreadlocks, a couple of miles away at a trailer park. He was eventually stopped by Pennsylvania State Police, who then called Gindhart. Gindhart came to where Kennedy was being detained and confirmed it was the same person who had run from him earlier.

Kennedy, who Cypher originally referred to as “Mark Himes” but later admitted to being Kennedy, according to White, was then questioned at the Franklin Police Department in the early morning hours of October 28, 2017, and both were eventually sent to UPMC Seneca for “Rape Kit Tests” to take their DNA, No rape was alleged in the incident but using a “rape kit” is a standard way of taking suspects DNA, White said.

As part of the investigation, White said that police heard from Greg Militello, who lived with Tausha Baker and her dad Doug Baker, who said his car, a red Ford Edge SUV with tinted windows, was missing and that Tausha Baker was the last person to be driving the car.

Tausha Baker

Police also learned that the Millers, a Franklin couple, had witnessed a red SUV with its tailgate down with an African-American male with dreadlocks and a Caucasian female, on Waterworks Road. Various video surveillance later obtained also showed the red SUV in the vicinity of Waterworks Road, according to White.

White then painted a picture of how Kennedy and Cypher knew Tausha Baker and said that Kennedy and Cypher were looking for drugs from Baker.

According to White’s allegations, Baker showed up at 1313 New Street, and Cypher was expecting them to go “smoke” at the table. But White said that Cypher, in November 2017, told police that Kennedy attacked Baker and was being “wildly aggressive” while hitting Baker with a frying pan. White said the attack went on for 20 minutes, and that Cypher had no idea why Kennedy was attacking Baker.

White said Cypher stated that Kennedy then bound Baker’s feet and hands with duct tape and told her to call Militello to get them drugs. Cypher then got in the red SUV and drove to Militello’s house.

At that point, White said that William (Bill) Umstead, who was renting the house, got up and went downstairs, but Kennedy told him to go back upstairs and that “this isn’t pretty.”

White went on to tell the jury that when Cypher returned with the SUV, Kennedy told her they had to get out of there and put Baker, who Cypher said was still alive, in the vehicle. They then drove around until they came to Waterworks Road, where Kennedy, according to Cypher, stabbed Baker and then dumped her over the hill.

The couple then fled the scene and tried to wash up before Kennedy spotted a gas can in an open garage, and they went back to Waterworks Road where Kennedy allegedly set Baker’s body on fire. The couple then went to Penny McCoy’s, where they washed up and changed clothes.

At some point, they actually returned to the New Street house before returning to Waterworks Road, according to White, and set the body on fire a second time.

White concluded by telling the jury that they would have to determine what occurred, but to do so, they would have different kinds of evidence.

“You will see circumstantial evidence,” White said. “You will have direct evidence, DNA evidence, and video evidence.”

Kennedy’s attorneys, Robert Kinnear and James White, deferred their opening statements until later in the trial.

OFFICER GINDHART TESTIFIES

The first witness White called was Gindhart.

Gindhart testified that he was on duty with Patrolman Chris Wagner when a call came in at 16:01 (4:01 p.m.) for a missing person, and he dispatched Wagner to the scene while he notified the dispatcher to contact local hospitals to see if the missing female was at any of them.

“I arrived on scene at 4:05 p.m.,” Gindhart said. “I took initial statements from the witnesses, who including Bill Umstead, Mark Daniels, Doug Baker, and Evelyn Davidson (Baker’s mother). I then went inside the house.”

Gindhart testified that there was blood throughout the house including in the living room the kitchen, on a plastic clothes hamper and on the hot water heater as well as blood on clothing. He said he then helped secure the scene.

Once outside, Gindhart said that some of the witnesses got his and Wagner’s attention that Kennedy and Cypher – known as Mark and Amber to the witnesses – were walking south across New Street.

“There they are,” Gindhart said the witnesses told him.

“I approached them, and Mr. Kennedy ran,” Gindhart said. “The female stopped.”

When asked, Gindhart identified Kennedy, who was in the courtroom dressed in a grey suit with a black shirt and a gray-striped tie, as the man who ran from him.

Gindhart said he tried to give chase, but Kennedy got away, so he returned to the New Street scene.

According to Gindhart, at approximately 5:41 p.m., he got a call saying that there had been a brush fire on Waterworks Road and that a body had been discovered.

Also, while at the New Street house, Gindhart testified that Daniels pointed out the frying pan.

Then, at approximately 7:10 p.m., Ginhart said state police called him saying they had a man that fit the description on Kennedy, and he went and took Kennedy into custody.

He said Kennedy had a cut on his hand, and when he asked him about the cut, Kennedy told him he got it from cooking, and that he was out looking for a female.

Gindhart testified that a body search warrant was obtained for Kennedy, and he took Kennedy to UPMC Seneca where DNA samples were taken between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Oct. 28, 2017.

White then showed Gindhart and jury a series of 19 photos, mainly of Kennedy but a few of Cypher as well. In testimony, Gindhart said the photos showed abrasions on Kennedy’s leg, the cut on his left hand and some dried blood on one of his fingers.

On cross-examination, Kinnear asked Gindhart if he witnessed any signs of drug use by Cypher or Kennedy, and Gindhart said he hadn’t but that he also wasn’t looking for any signs of use.

Kinnear then asked Gindhart to look at the photos of Cypher and asked him if he noticed the bruises on her face and on her hands. He asked Gindhart if he asked Cypher where she had gotten the bruises, and Gindhart said he hadn’t.

He also asked Gindhart if blood samples had been taken of Kennedy, and Gindhart said they hadn’t.

White then asked when blood samples are normally taken, and Gindhart said during DUIs. White followed up by asking if blood samples were normally taken when assaults occurred, and Gindhart said no.

Kinnear then asked if for a DUI it would be normal to still see signs of use 12 hours later, and Gindhart said no. Kinnear then asked if someone had been taking drugs at 7 or 8 a.m. if it would be normal to see signs 12 hours later, and Gindhart said it would depend on the narcotic, but it was possible.

WAGNER TESTIFIES

After Gindhart’s testimony was over, Wagner took the stand and testified that when he first went into the house, he found blood.

“There was a lot of blood everywhere,” Wagner said.

White asked Wagner if Cypher, who was put unhandcuffed into the back of a police car to keep a confrontation from occurring with the witnesses, appeared to be on drugs or alcohol, and Wagner said she was “awake and alert.”

Wagner also testified that Cypher was taken to UPMC Seneca for DNA testing at 4:39 a.m. October 28, 2017, and was “pretty cooperative” and showed “no signs of impairment.”

On the cross-examination, Kinnear asked if Cypher had said anything to Wagner about the case when she was in the police car, and Wagner said she hadn’t.

Kinnear that told Cypher to look at his report, because in his report, Kinnear said Wagner had written down why Cypher had told him in the car.

According to Kinnear, Wagner’s notes said Cypher said she was new to the area and didn’t know why her boyfriend (later determined to be Kennedy) had run. Kinnear went on to say that Cypher told Wagner that the couple was walking around looking for Baker, who she said she had last talked to on the phone at 9:00 a.m. that day and who she had last seen at 8:00 a.m.

Cypher, according to Wagner’s notes as read by Kinnear, said she and Kennedy were waiting at Baker’s house for her, but, she didn’t show up. Cypher then told Wagner that she tried to call Baker three or four times, but it went straight to voicemail.

Kinnear said Wagner’s notes also said that Cypher claimed that Baker owed her $200.00 that she had given Baker to purchase marijuana. According to Wagner’s notes, Cypher said that Baker couldn’t “produce the weight”, which means she couldn’t produce the drugs, so Cypher asked for her money back, and that was where Baker was going when she last saw her.

Kinnear then asked Wagner if he had seen the bruises on Cypher, and Wagner said he could recall the scar on the chin but not the other ones. Kinnear then said that Wagner hadn’t “roughed up” Cypher or handcuffed her, and Wagner acknowledged that he hadn’t “roughed her up” or handcuffed her.

Kinnear followed up by asking why Wagner hadn’t taken photos of Cypher at the hospital as Gindhart had of Kennedy, and he said it was his first body warrant and he didn’t know if he should or shouldn’t have taken pictures.

TROOPER JOHNSON TESTIFIES

The last witness of the day was Pennsylvania State Trooper Keith Johnson, who was one of the officers to stop Kennedy the night of October 27, 2017, and the one who called Gindhart about him being with the state police.

On cross-examination by James Miller, Kennedy’s other attorney, Johnson testified that the call was for a black male asking for cigarettes.

“So, what you are saying is the suspicious activity was a black male asking for cigarettes?” Miller said after noting that Kennedy hadn’t broken into any trailers at the trailer park.

The trial will resume at 9:00 a.m. Thursday, April 4. It is currently scheduled through Thursday, April 18.


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