Closing Arguments Given in Kennedy Murder Trial; Jury to Get Case Wednesday
FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – The defense and prosecution both gave their closing arguments in the trial of Richard Kennedy for the murder of Tausha Baker on Tuesday afternoon at the Venango County Courthouse.
Venango County Judge Oliver Lobaugh then sent the jury home with instructions to report at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, April 17, to start at approximately 9:00 a.m. When proceedings resume on Wednesday, Lobaugh will “charge” the jury, and the jury will begin its deliberations.
Kennedy is accused of assaulting, kidnapping, killing Baker and then burning her body on October 27, 2017, in Franklin.
The defense, however, made the argument in its closing remarks that Kennedy’s girlfriend, Amanda Cypher, is the true killer.
Cypher testified during the trial that Kennedy committed the murder.
“Tausha Baker died at the hands of Amanda Cypher at 1313 New Street because of a drug debt and because she couldn’t get enough weight (drugs),” defense counsel Robert Kinnear said.
“Mr. Kennedy did not kill Tauha Baker, Amanda Cypher is your true killer.”
Kinnear claims that the Commonwealth’s case against Kennedy was one in which the Commonwealth and the police were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole saying the jury would see reasonable doubt.
“Look at how this started,” Kinnear said. “They had two people who were alleged (to be part of the murder). The police and the Commonwealth had a foregone conclusion and tried to make the evidence got to the conclusion. They didn’t allow the evidence to speak for itself.”
Venango County District Attorney Shawn White, not surprisingly, disagreed.
“It’s not what the Commonwealth knew, it was when did they know it,” White said. “On October 27, the Commonwealth did not have any forensic evidence. It wasn’t until March 29, five months later. How could we have any conclusions if we didn’t have (DNA evidence) until five months later?”
In Kinnear’s delayed opening remarks that he waited to give this past Saturday, April 13, he again went to the point that the Commonwealth didn’t send either of two alleged murder weapons for DNA analysis: a frying pan and a rock.
The frying pan was found at 1313 New Street that the defense claims killed Baker and the Commonwealth says just injured her. The rock that Cypher pointed out to police on Waterworks Road in December 2017 after she told them Kennedy was the killer that the Commonwealth says Kennedy dropped on Baker. (Waterworks Road was where Baker’s body was found on October 27, 2017.)
“The Commonwealth didn’t send the pan to the lab,” Kinnear said. “There is a certain standard that if you think its a murder weapon, it should go to the lab.”
Kinnear then claimed the rock wasn’t put into evidence, that there was no picture of the rock, and that Dr. Karl Williams, the Chief Medical Examiner of Allegheny County, who testified as a paid expert witness for the defense, said that one would expect to find debris in Baker’s wounds and more injuries to her head if a rock had been dropped on her.
“As I said Saturday, if you don’t send it, you can’t test it,” Kinnear told the jury.
White countered the defense’s argument of the frying pan and the rock not being sent for DNA testing during his remarks, saying that because of various factors sending either for testing would have been a waste of time.
About the frying pan, White pointed out that police didn’t even know it was used as a weapon until Cypher told them at the December 22, 2017 interview; she told them Kennedy used it to hit Baker when she walked into the New Street House. That coupled with Bill Umstead, the primary resident of the 1313 New Street address, telling the police and the jury that he had found the pan in the sink and that he had thrown it outside and contaminated the evidence.
“We have to choose wisely what we send (to have tested),” White said. “The frying pan was found in the sink that had running water. The frying pan was compromised.”
White also had the same argument about the rock.
“We don’t know if it is THE rock,” White said. “We collected it. It was out in the elements 60 days. There was no hiding of any murder weapon.”
White went back over what he said happened in the murder laying out that Kennedy attacked Baker when she came to deliver and perhaps smoke crack with Cypher and Kennedy at just after 8:00 a.m. October 27, 2017.
The DA contends that after Kennedy attacked Baker with the frying pan, he then had her call Greg Militello to tell him to give Kennedy and Cypher whatever they wanted. Cypher then goes to Militello’s house and gets more drugs and returns to 1313 New Street. While Cypher was gone, White says Umstead tried to go downstairs but was told not to by Kennedy. When Cypher returned driving Militello’s car, which Baker had borrowed to come to New Street, Kennedy took Baker, who White said was still alive at the time, and put her in the backseat of the car.
The DA reminded the jury that there is DNA evidence of Baker’s blood in the back of the SUV. White said Cypher then was told by Kennedy to drive to a wooded area. At the wooded area on Waterworks Road, White contends Kennedy then stabbed Baker and dropped the rock on her before disposing of her body over the hillside.
Later, White says Kennedy and Cypher ditched their clothes at Pioneer Cemetery, and Kennedy found a gas can. The couple then drove back to Waterworks Road and set Baker’s body on fire before going to Penny McCoy’s house, where Kennedy hid his shoes in the attic, that had blood on them (the blood turned out to be his own). The couple then went to see Militello and smoked some crack and then Kennedy and Cypher returned to the New Street house.
Eventually, the couple again went back out to Waterworks Road and set Baker’s body on fire a second time, according to White.
“This was a violent and brutal attack,” White said.
Kinnear didn’t dispute that his client played a role in disposing of and burning Baker’s body, but his version of what happened varied greatly from White’s.
“What happened was Amanda Cypher wanted her drugs and Tausha owed a debt of $200.00,” Kinnear told the jury. “She showed up (at New Street) without the money. There was a discussion, and Tausha called Greg. There is a fight. Tausha Baker was fighting for her life.”
Kinnear noted that no one testified that during Baker’s call to Militello that Baker sounded or acted like she was in distress, and White countered that she was acting like everything was okay because she was trying to find a way out of her situation.
It was during this alleged fight, that Kinnear told the jury that Cypher hit Baker with the frying pan four or five times. He pointed out that Williams said that would have killed Baker within a matter of minutes.
“They rolled her body up in a carpet and took her out the window where the air conditioner was,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear claimed the reason Baker was bound with duct tape and put in the carpet is that a dead body is hard to move.
White countered that it didn’t make any sense asking the jury why – if Baker’s body was wrapped in a carpet – would there be a need to duct tape her hands.
White also asked the jury why the defendant would have taken Baker’s body out through the window that the air conditioner was in considering that window was in the back of the house and the SUV was parked in the front of the house.
“Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take her out the front door?” White asked.
White also asked why, if Baker’s body was in a carpet, there were blood streaks found at the Waterworks Road dump site.
The opposing attorneys also disagreed on whether there was blood hemorrhaging around Baker’s stab wounds with Kinnear saying that Williams, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, said there wasn’t, while White argued that Dr. Eric Vey, the Erie County Medical Examiner who did the autopsy, said there was.
Kinnear also tried to portray both Cypher and Joseph Ibarra as unreliable, untrustworthy witnesses.
Ibarra was Kennedy’s cellmate at the Venango County jail who told police Kennedy told him that he (Kennedy) had killed Baker.
Pointing out that Cypher had either lied to police about the $200.00 debt Baker owed her during her police interview December 22, 2017 or to the jury when she told them there was no such debt, Kinnear asked if anything Cypher said could be trusted.
“The judge will tell you (that you) are free to believe all, some, or none of her testimony,” Kinnear said. “Because she is an admitted liar.”
White didn’t dispute that Cypher had lied about the $200.00 debt but pointed out that there was corroborating evidence to support everything else she had said.
“You may not like her, but do the facts stack up?” White said.
With Ibarra, Kinnear tried to paint a picture of a prisoner who was on the same cellblock with Militello in August 2018 just before giving police his statement about Kennedy.
“He is a jailhouse snitch who is not reliable,” Kinnear said, who claimed that Ibarra’s testimony about Kennedy saying “no face, no case” seemed a little too convenient.
Kinnear also questioned if someone from the District Attorney’s Office had met with Ibarra.
“Mr. Peasley (Assistant Venango County DA Kyle Peasley) asked him if he (Ibarra) had met with Peasley,” Kinnear said. “Who did he meet with?”
White inferred that he was insulted by that accusation and said Ibarra had no connection to Cypher.
“Why wouldn’t (Kennedy) have just told him Cypher did it?” White asked. “He (Kennedy) could have said Amanda did it.”
White outlined why he believed Kennedy was guilty of a multitude of charges pointing out that the Aggravated Assault happened when he attacked Baker at 1313 New Street; that the kidnapping was two-fold, one when he restrained Baker at the New Street house and then again when she was taken to Waterworks Road; that first-degree murder happened when Kennedy formed the intent to kill Baker while on the way to Waterworks Road and then used the knife to stab her before dropping the rock on her.
White also said that even without intent to kill, it’s second-degree murder because Baker died after being kidnapped.
“You have to look at the evidence, judge the credibility, and decide who did it,” White said.
Kinnear said he was asking the jury to apply the truth and that the truth is what will bring justice to Baker.
“The true killer is Amanda Cypher, not the boyfriend, Richard Kennedy,” Kinnear said. “He is not the one that did this to Tausha Baker.”
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