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Court decision clears way in Baker case

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- An unanimous decision by state Supreme Court of Appeals could finally clear the way for a trial in a hotly contested homicide case from more than five years ago.

It stems from the Feb. 4, 2008, shooting death of Jeffrey D. Sadler, who died amid a domestic dispute with the daughter of shooting suspect Teresa Lynn Baker, 57. The defense contends Sadler, 25, was an abusive boyfriend and Baker had little choice but to kill in her daughter's defense, especially after Baker called police and waited for an hour with no response.

The defense petitioned the Supreme Court, arguing the trial judge violated Baker's right to a speedy trial, but the state's five justices disagreed in unanimous fashion. They refused to hear oral arguments June 4 and did so without issuing a formal opinion, according to information learned Friday by The Herald-Dispatch.

Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles praised the ruling Friday. He said hopes it will provide a clear path to trial. He has long blamed defense actions for causing the extended delay.

"We're glad the Supreme Court agrees," he said. "The victim's family deserves to have resolution to this matter ... They've been very understanding about the delay, but they're very interested in seeing the matter resolved."

The court announced its decision without a written opinion. That left lead defense attorney Chad Hatcher disappointed. Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said court rules allow for such a ruling in cases of original jurisdiction, which includes pretrial matters such as Baker's case.

Hatcher's petition had outlined eight unexcused delays. It only needed to prove three as case law demands a trial within three terms of court.

But the state Attorney General's Office, arguing on Chiles' behalf, insisted almost every delay in Baker's case "was directly attributable to the actions of defense counsel." Its argument referenced defense motions, waivers and requests to postpone hearings.

"While the burden does rest with the State to bring any case to trial, this does not require the State to overcome the actions of defense counsel in order to do so," wrote Assistant Attorney General Laura Young in the prosecution's response.

The Supreme Court petition was the latest in a series of issues that have snarled Baker's prosecution. Others concerned the clarity of audio recordings, allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and the death of Baker's first attorney.

Both Chiles and Hatcher said they believe Baker's case can be resolved by the year's end. They anticipate Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson will soon schedule a status conference and set a new trial date.

Hatcher said he will meet with his client to discuss what, if any, remaining options they have to prevent the case from going to trial. Otherwise, he said they only have a few minor issues to deal with before the case is ready for trial.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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