Kennedy Murder Trial Resumes Today; Defense Intends to Place Burden of Guilt on Cypher
The jurors will return to the courtroom today at 1:30 p.m. to listen to the defense for Richard Kennedy lay out their argument that Amanda Cypher was the one who killed 25-year-old Tausha Lee Baker, of Franklin, on October 27, 2017.
The defense in the Richard Kennedy murder trial on Saturday, April 13, stated unequivocally they intend to place the burden of guilt firmly upon Cypher.
“She is the killer,” Defense Attorney Robert Kinnear stated, in reference to Cypher.
Kinnear laid out a number of issues the defense intends to touch upon, including questions of evidence.
“If you don’t send it, they can’t test it,” Kinnear noted again, referring to several items entered as evidence that were not sent to or tested by a forensic crime lab.
This issue was brought up earlier in the trial when Matt Santangelo, a Forensic Serologist with the Erie Crime Lab, was questioned about why some of the items were sent on for DNA testing and others weren’t.
Specifically, reference was made to a frying pan found at 1313 New Street that prosecutors allege was used by Kennedy to beat Baker and a rock found in the vicinity of where Baker’s body was found.
Kinnear also brought up the lack of DNA evidence on Baker’s clothing, as well as the testimony from Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathology specialist in Erie, noting that the one major injury, the fracture to the back of Baker’s skull, could have been fatal within one to two minutes.
The defense also made it clear that they do not intend to argue Kennedy’s complete innocence and will not offer defense against charges that he helped dispose of Baker’s body. However, Kinnear reminded the jury not to “speculate” on how much Kennedy may have helped, basing their decisions firmly on what the evidence can prove.
Kinnear also stated an intention to focus on evidence that Baker was killed in the New Street residence in Franklin and was then transported to Waterworks Road, where her body was later found.
He reminded the jury to keep the particular question of where Baker was killed in mind as they listen to further testimony.
Overview of Richard Kennedy Trial
Venango County DA Shawn White Gives Opening Argument; First Officers on the Scene Testify
The trial began 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.
Venango County Judge Oliver Lobaugh read the charges to the jury: First-Degree Murder; 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.
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.
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 also 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.
Franklin Police Officers Gindhart and Wagner and State Trooper Johnson testified the steps of their investigation, that included evidence of a crime at the 1313 New Street residence, a body being found at Waterworks Road, and the eventual arrests of Richard Kennedy and Amanda Cypher.
Forensic Pathologist Testifies on Baker’s Wounds
Forensic Pathologist Dr. Eric Vey testified he performed the autopsy on Baker on October 30, 2017.
Dr. Vey testified that Baker’s body “showed extremely severe total body burns” to the extent that a large portion of her skin was charred and some areas of her body were incinerated down to the bone, which he said “muddies the water a bit” in terms of investigation, as the burns may have destroyed some of the evidence of trauma.
However, Vey also testified that he was able to pinpoint the cause of death, considering the “obvious trauma” to her head, including a total of three blunt force trauma wounds to her head and a total of 19 sharp force trauma wounds to her head and neck. Dr. Vey was also able to pinpoint a total of eleven sharp force trauma wounds to her torso.
Key Pieces of Evidence Shown to Jury
A number of key pieces of evidence shown to the jury.
Among those pieces of evidence were two pairs of shoes – a pair of women’s winter boots and a pair of men’s Air Jordan sneakers – found at a house owned by Penny McCoy at 609 Hillside Avenue, as well as clothing found in the area of Pioneer Cemetery near Otter and 15th Streets.
Pennsylvania State Police Sergeant Lee Bunyak, who was a corporal at the time of the alleged crime stationed as the Crime Unit Supervisor at the Franklin Barracks in Seneca, Pa., testified that Amanda Cypher, who is also accused in taking part in the crime, told police in late December 2017 (December 22) where to find the clothing items in the area of Pioneer Cemetery near Otter and 15th Streets in Franklin.
Those items were shown one-by-one to the jury by Franklin Police Detective Kevin Saragian, the lead investigator of the alleged crime, and included 10 items found in a hollowed out tree stump and four items found nearby the hollowed out tree stump under a fallen tree.
The items shown that were found in the hollowed out stump included dark gray Nike sweatpants, a pair of men’s gray Hanes underwear size large, a black blanket with a white leopard pattern with suspected blood stains, a Columbia size small zippered sweatshirt/jacket with what Saragian described as approximately 25 stab holes in it, a size large Fruit of the Loom long underwear pants with suspected blood on it, a size large white long underwear shirt with suspected blood, a Shop & Save t-Shirt size large, a 2XL size t-shirt and a red size small t-shirt with what Saragian described as approximately 20 stab holes in it.
The items found under the fallen tree included a pair of women’s jeans size 7, a pair of men’s jeans size 34-30, three sections of wet wipes, and two pieces of cut cord that were white in color.
A white cord – described to be a broken cell phone cord – was also found by officers at the dump site on Waterworks Road where Baker’s burned body was found on the same late December 2017 day.
DNA Evidence Links Kennedy to Baker’s Murder
Some of the DNA evidence is linked to Kennedy including Baker’s DNA on the right fingernail of Kennedy, which was submitted as a swab of the fingernail to Kasardo after the fingernail was taken from Kennedy in the early morning hours of October 28, 2017, at UPMC Seneca as part of a sexual assault kit administered to Kennedy – no sexual assault is alleged in this case, but the kit is used to collect DNA from people suspected of other crimes, as well.
Baker’s DNA was also found in multiple places including from blood swabs on the kitchen floor of the house at 1313 New Street where Kennedy is accused of beating Baker prior to killing her, as well as on the utility room wall of the 1313 New Street house.
Additional locations Baker’s blood was found was on a blue hooded sweatshirt; blood was found on the rear passenger seat of a Ford Edge SUV that prosecutors allege Kennedy and his accomplice, Amanda Cypher, used to transport Baker from New Street to Waterworks Road; and blood was found on a woman’s winter boot that was found at McCoy’s house on Hillside Avenue.
A tooth found at 1313 New Street was also confirmed to be from Baker.
Cypher Paints Picture of Kennedy Being Sole Actor in Baker’s Murder
Amanda Cypher laid out a story to jurors stating that Richard Kennedy was the sole actor in the murder of Tausha Baker despite the fact Cypher witnessed the murder and participated in disposing of the body.
Cypher, who near the end of her first day of testimony seemingly answered with a positive when asked by Venango County District Attorney Shawn White if she had struck a deal with the Commonwealth to plead guilty to murder (the degree of murder wasn’t specified) in exchange for her testimony against Kennedy. Kennedy was her boyfriend at the time of the alleged murder.
She said Kennedy first attacked Baker at 1313 New Street on the morning of October 27 and later stabbed her, beat her with a rock, and burned her body at a location off Waterworks Road the same day.
Cellmate Says Kennedy Bragged About Killing Baker
Richard Kennedy’s cellmate at the Venango County Jail told the jury that Kennedy confided in him about killing Tausha Baker.
The cellmate gave details that Kennedy had told him that matched some of the previous testimony and evidence given in the case.
He testified that Kennedy told him about burning Baker’s body, smashing her face in, and how a rock was used. He also said that Kennedy told him that he had used a frying pan to beat Baker at one point.
When asked by Assistant Venango County District Attorney Kyle Peasley what Kennedy said, he replied, “No disrespect to the victim’s family, he said ‘The bitch got what she got.’”
Peasley asked the cellmate what Kennedy told him about using a rock.
“So, she wouldn’t be identifiable,” Ibarra said. “He said, no face, no case.”
The “no face, no case” had been referenced by Amanda Cypher during her testimony.
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