Trial Expected to Begin Soon in Tausha Baker Homicide Case, Jury Selection Ongoing
Jury selection is ongoing for the case against 30-year-old Richard A. Kennedy, of Vandergrift, who is facing charges of Criminal Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Abuse of a Corpse, and Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence in relation to the death of 25-year-old Tausha Lee Baker of Franklin.
According to a representative of the Venango County Court of Common Pleas, the trial dates will be set once the jury selection is completed.
Details of the case:
Kennedy and 34-year-old Amanda L. Cypher, of Franklin are accused of murdering 25-year-old Tausha Lee Baker in an apparent botched drug deal.
Police believe Kennedy used a pair of brass knuckles and a heavy frying pan to beat to death 25-year-old Tausha Lee Baker, of Franklin, on Friday, October 27.
Cypher is accused of being involved in the crime and helping to cover it up.
Kennedy is facing charges of Criminal Homicide; Conspiracy – Criminal Homicide; and Aggravated Assault, all first-degree felonies, and Abuse of a Corpse and Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence, both second-degree misdemeanors.
District Attorney Shawn White had charges added to the indictment against Kennedy, including Aggravated Assault, a second-degree felony, and three first-degree misdemeanors that include Possession of an Instrument of Crime With Intent; Possession of a Weapon; and Make Repairs/Sell/Etc. Offensive Weapons.
Cypher is facing charges of Conspiracy – Criminal Homicide and Aggravated Assault, both first-degree felonies, and Abuse of a Corpse and Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence, both second-degree misdemeanors. A charge of Aggravated Assault, a second-degree felony was also added.
Judge Kirtland Hears Testimonies During Preliminary Hearing
Judge Kirtland heard testimony from 11 different people. Two men who lived in the house where Baker was killed testified, as well as Baker’s father, four investigators, and the Venango County coroner.
Testimonies from Bill Umstead, who was renting the house (pictured below), and Mark Daniels, who lived there, revealed that Kennedy and Cypher were at the residence looking for Baker. They said she sold them $200.00 worth of methamphetamine instead of crack cocaine. They were trying to get their money back.
Umstead said he was asleep when the crime occurred sometime in the early-morning hours of October 27.
He testified to drinking heavily with Daniels during the evening of Thursday, October 26. He said that he and Daniels got into an argument. Daniels said the argument was because Umstead wanted more vodka from the bottle they were drinking. Daniels told him he couldn’t have any, and Umstead decided to go upstairs and go to bed.
Later, Kennedy went upstairs and told Umstead that “if he needed anyone taken care of, he would do it” while brandishing the brass knuckles.
Umstead told Kennedy not to do anything to Daniels because it wasn’t a big deal.
Umstead said he closed and locked his bedroom door after Kennedy left. Then, he turned on the TV before falling asleep.
Umstead said he didn’t know if Baker had been at his house before he fell asleep.
Umstead testified that the next morning – Friday, October 27 – he woke up and heard voices downstairs. When he tried to go downstairs, Kennedy stopped him, telling him not to come down because “it’s not pretty.” Kennedy had told him, “I need time to clean up.”
Umstead said Kennedy had his hand wrapped in a rag, and there was a rag wrapped around his face. Umstead thought Kennedy was cooking meth because he had seen other people do that when they cooked meth.
However, Kennedy had not been cooking meth, according to Umstead. Umstead said he then went back to the bedroom, looked out the window, and saw Cypher with one foot in a “Jeep-type” vehicle and one foot still on the ground.
After Kennedy and Cypher left the residence, Umstead then came downstairs where he saw the refrigerator was moved, the garbage can overturned, and the air conditioner out of the window.
He asked Daniels, “Is that blood?” because he is supposedly color blind and wasn’t sure. Daniels said that it was blood. Umstead also saw a frying pan with a large dent in it in the kitchen sink. He said he saw blood on a closet door, floorboard frame, and a bloody handprint on a door. Umstead took the frying pan and threw it out into the yard.
He then walked to a nearby bar “After Hours” where he was for one to 1-1/2 hours. He then returned home and took a nap for awhile.
Umstead said he also saw a lot of blood under a toolbox, and he saw a red-colored stain on a towel that had been in the washer.
Umstead and Daniels said neither one of them heard anything during the time when the beating allegedly occurred.
Umstead testified that he told Daniels, “We gotta call the police. I think something bad happened here.”
He then walked to the home of Tausha’s father, Doug Baker, to talk to him and to try to tell him what was going on; but, before he got Doug Baker to understand him, he said he saw Cypher and Kennedy there.
Umstead returned home to the residence at 1313 New Street, and at that point, Daniels was calling the police.
When officers from Franklin City Police arrived, Umstead and Daniels spoke with them. Then, Kennedy and Cypher were seen at the corner of New and 13th Street, and police gave chase.
They soon detained Cypher, but Kennedy ran from the area.
Daniels gave his testimony stating that he didn’t go to bed until around 4:00 a.m. and that Kennedy and Cypher were still at the house, as well as another man. Daniels said another man – Greg – came to the New Street residence before he went to bed. Greg Militello was living at Doug Baker’s home where Tausha also resided. Daniels said he heard “Amanda” trying to get Tausha to come over so that they could get drugs.
Daniels said after he went to bed, he heard a yell.
“I assumed (the defendants) were arguing, but I didn’t go down.”
Later, when Daniels asked Kennedy what had happened, Kennedy said he had cut his hand, but didn’t say how.
Tausha’s father, Doug, then testified. He said he had been drinking since Wednesday because it was his birthday and also had smoked some marijuana. He wasn’t sure about when he saw certain people.
“My mind is so scattered right now,” Baker said during his testimony. “I still haven’t accepted this.”
Another Franklin resident, Penny McCoy, testified that Kennedy and Cypher had shown up at her residence on Hillside Avenue where she lives with her boyfriend, Kevin Yeager. Yeager wasn’t there at the time because police had arrested him for assaulting McCoy earlier on October 27.
McCoy said she knew Kennedy from years ago and hadn’t seen him for awhile. She testified that she saw both defendants wash their hands and change clothes before leaving.
When Franklin Police Lt. Aaron Campbell went to McCoy’s residence, he received permission to search it.
Lt. Campbell testified that he saw several items that McCoy said didn’t belong to her in an upstairs bedroom. When the officer searched another bedroom, he noticed an access panel to the attic had been displaced.
“When I looked in I saw a pair of gold and white Air Jordans. When I pulled the shoes out, there appeared to be blood on the shoelaces, sides, and heels of the shoe,” Lt. Campbell said.
A resident who lives nearby testified that he and his wife were driving to Franklin to shop and have dinner when they passed a vehicle parked at a known dump site between 4:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. They saw two people at the vehicle, but couldn’t positively identify them.
“It’s a place where people dump garbage over the bank. We saw a black man with long hair. The hatch was open, and we could see garbage bags inside,” said the man. “They looked at us, and we looked at them. We were mad because we didn’t like people dumping garbage there.”
“We didn’t see any smoke or fire at the time.”
Tom Sherman, a public safety officer at Grove City College and the chief of the Polk Volunteer Fire Department, testified that he received a call from Franklin Police around 5:10 p.m. about smoke being seen on Waterworks Road.
Sherman said Assistant Chief Jeff Larson and two other firefighters put out the fire and discovered a body before he arrived.
“When I saw the burned body, I got our guys out of there, and we put up caution tape to secure the scene,” Sherman said.
Venango County Coroner Christina Rugh testified that she was called to the scene at 6:27 p.m.
“The person was laying on her back, and her extremities, head, and face were severely burned. We made a tentative ID at about 11:27 p.m. based in part on the tattoos found on her.”
“One on her back read ‘Mendez’ while there were others including ‘Steven’ and with a heart.”
Rugh testified she attended Tausha Baker’s autopsy on Monday, October 30, in Erie, that was conducted by long-time coroner Dr. Eric Vey.
“The report said she (Baker) had multiple sharp-force wounds and blunt force trauma wounds to her head,” Rugh said.
Rugh said she saw injuries to her head and torso area on both sides.
Franklin City Police Detective Kevin Saragian testified that before he interviewed Cypher, she was asleep in the squad room of the police department.
Saragian said Cypher referred to Kennedy as “Mark Himes” because he had warrants in Allegheny County.
He also testified that Cypher admitted to being in the McCoy house on October 27. She said she hadn’t seen the bloody scene at the New Street residence, but she had heard about it from Bill Umstead.
There was also testimony from Saragian about a vehicle owned by Militello, a 2011 Ford Edge, a small SUV.
Saragian testified that Militello said Tausha had borrowed it, and it was missing. It was found on Monday, October 30, on Elk Street, and Franklin-based State Police performed a crime scene investigation on it.
Blood was found throughout the vehicle, and wet clothes were found in a white, plastic garbage bag in the rear cargo area.
Saragian said when Kennedy was interviewed, he claimed he didn’t know Baker and had never seen her. The detective also testified that Kennedy said he cut his left-hand cooking at Bill’s. He said he was “high” and wasn’t sure about being at McCoy’s house.
Kennedy ended the interview when he said he wanted to go to bed and didn’t want to talk anymore. At that point, he was arrested.
Detective Paul Swatzler – who was previously a criminal investigator with the state police and is currently an investigator with the county – testified that he reviewed video surveillance from various cameras that showed a Ford Edge on Waterworks Road as well as in the neighborhoods of the crime scene and McCoy’s residence.
Case Against Cypher
Court documents indicate a joinder in the cases against Cypher and Kennedy was withdrawn on August 2, 2018.
No jury selection dates have been set in Cypher’s case as of April 3, 2019.
She remains lodged in the Venango County Jail with bail denied.
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