A bench trial for Roberta Baker, who was charged in connection with the Feb. 23, 2018 death of her infant son, was held before Circuit Court Judge Wendy Wexler Horn on Monday.
A bench trial means that Baker waived her right to a jury trial and the determination of her guilt or innocence relies solely on the judge.
Baker is charged with Class A felony abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death. If found guilty, Baker could face a prison sentence of 10 years to life.
After hearing testimony and arguments, Judge Horn took the case under advisement and is expected to render a verdict at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
On Monday, St. Francois County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Courtney Goodwin began the trial by calling Baker's mother, Vicky Morris, to testify.
Morris testified that she and her husband lived on a property with her parents. On that same property, Morris’ brother lived in a mobile home and Baker was residing in that mobile home with her uncle. It was also noted that Baker’s oldest two children lived with the Morrises in the house and that Morris had guardianship of those girls most of their lives.
Morris testified that she knew Baker was pregnant and on the morning of Feb. 23, 2018, she was awakened by a second phone call from her brother at around 5 a.m. Her brother told her that Baker needed her. Morris said she arrived at the trailer within just a couple of minutes.
When she got close to the trailer Morris said she saw Baker holding something by the door and asked twice in a surprise tone, “Is that your baby?” Morris said Baker asked her to help.
Morris then said she called 911 because Baker had not and she then began CPR until Deputy Andrew Rieger with the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department arrived and took over the resuscitation efforts.
Paul Morris, Baker’s stepfather was also called to testify. He was asked to verify the timeline of events that occurred that morning.
Deputy Rieger testified that when he arrived, the two women were in the bedroom with the baby and Morris was attempting to perform CPR.
Rieger testified that the infant was discolored, had no pulse, no signs of breathing but was warm to the touch.
Baker initially told the deputy that the baby had been born the day before but later said he had been born that day at 3:30 a.m. Baker also told Rieger that she had no medical care and that the baby was three months premature. Baker did admit she knew she was pregnant and told Rieger that no one else was in the home when she delivered the baby. Baker said she hadn’t called for help because she had active warrants for her arrest.
St. Francois County Det. Sgt. Ken Wakefield testified about the autopsy. Evidence included the stomach contents of the infant, Elijah Baker, as well as a small zip-tie that had been used to clamp the umbilical cord.
Dr. Russell Deidiker, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Elijah, testified to the infant’s cause of death.
Diediker testified that the gestational age of Elijah was 28-30 weeks which made him 10-12 weeks premature. Diediker testified that the child would have had respiratory difficulties at that age. In addition, Diediker testified that Elijah had evidence of breathing and there was formula in his stomach indicating that he had been born alive.
Diediker testified that because of the lack of medical care and the infant’s prematurity, the child had zero chance of survival. Diediker also testified that the infant tested positive for meth. He officially ruled Elijah’s death as a homicide in that the absence of medical care directly caused the death of the infant.
Det. Lt. Matt Wampler was the lead investigator into the death of Elijah. Wampler initially interviewed Baker at the sheriff’s department on the morning of Feb. 23, 2018.
In this interview, Baker told Wampler that she didn’t seek medical attention for the baby because she had active warrants and didn’t want to go to prison.
Wampler questioned Baker about her other children and she told him that all of her other three children had been born in the hospital. Baker said she went to bed on Feb. 22 not feeling well and woke up and delivered at around 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 23. Baker told Wampler in this interview that no one was with her at the time of delivery.
Wampler then testified on the collection of multiple pieces of evidence from Baker's home.
On Feb. 23 after collection of evidence, Wampler interviewed Baker a second time. In this interview Baker admitted that she lied and had given birth 24 hours earlier on Feb. 22 at 3 a.m.
Baker told Wampler she lied because she was afraid Children’s Division would take her son away. Baker said that a friend who had claimed to have a nursing background was present with her when she delivered Elijah. In addition, Baker’s boyfriend and another man were also in the home at the time.
Wampler noted to Baker that the placenta, as well as the soiled bed clothes, were not found. Baker claimed no knowledge of what had happened to them.
Baker told Wampler that “she hoped the baby would pull through.”
Baker then told Wampler that she had been leaking placenta fluid for two days but had concluded the baby was sitting on her bladder.
Baker told Wampler she went to bed and woke up contracting really bad and called for her friend to help. When her friend arrived, Baker told Wampler that she assisted in the delivery.
Baker had Googled how to handle unassisted births. Baker claimed she thought it would be OK and that she didn’t know Elijah was premature.
Baker claimed that Elijah did fine for the first 20 hours. She said she woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 and noticed his color had changed and that his eyes looked “funny." Baker told Wampler she should have called 911 and gotten prenatal care.
In a third interview, Wampler determined Baker had sent her boyfriend and uncle to Walmart to buy supplies after Elijah was born.
It was also learned that on Feb. 22 at 7:39 p.m. Baker uploaded a photo of Elijah to Facebook.
Wampler also testified about several messages sent between Baker and friends telling them about Elijah and asking them not to tell anyone. Baker also sent messages to friends talking about how scared she was. In another conversation, Baker called herself a “strong psycho bitch.”
Stephanie Zipfel, attorney for the defense, called Baker to the stand. Baker testified that she had taken prenatal vitamins and eaten healthy foods during the pregnancy.
Baker claimed she had procrastinated going to the doctor. She said she was afraid she would lose her 4-year-old child, as well as the baby.
Baker testified that whether she was at home or in the hospital, things can happen..
Baker said the baby was small but looked and acted great. The only concern she noted was that the baby wasn’t eating as good as she would have liked.
In cross-examination, Goodwin questioned Baker about how she told Rieger she was three months early in delivering the baby and how she had said she had concerns about the baby’s low birth weight.
The defense rested following Baker’s testimony.
During closing arguments, Goodwin said that Baker knew she was pregnant and chose not to seek prenatal care. Goodwin said that Baker knew the child was premature and that her meth use had ultimately caused Elijah’s death.
Goodwin focused on the fact that Baker had 48 hours of labor and 26 hours before Elijah died to seek medical care for the infant but chose not to do so.
Zipfel argued that the prosecution failed to show causation or that Baker had caused Elijah’s death. Zipfel reiterated that Elijah could have died in the hospital and that there was no evidence of a specific crime.
Zipfel claimed that when Baker thought something was wrong she sought help. She pointed out the baby was not pronounced dead until he was at the hospital.
Zipfel also stated that many people are now having successful home deliveries and the fact Baker had delivered at home was not a reason to convict her of a crime.
Goodwin rebutted that Baker knew the risks but hoped Elijah would pull through. In addition, Goodwin noted that no supplies were bought until after Elijah was born and that babies and children can not protect themselves and when they die someone has to step in and do something.
Judge Horn said that this was “a very difficult case." She said it was not a judgement that she wanted to make right away but needed time to review notes, evidence, and case law.
Baker is currently incarcerated with the Missouri Department of Corrections for a probation violation of previous possession charges.