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A Crime Most Vile: The Murders of Cory & Jenna Clark

            On a February afternoon in 2004, school officials in Lapel, Indiana were trying desperately to reach Cory Clark. She had failed to pick her seven-year-old daughter up from school. When they couldn’t reach her, they contacted a family friend who was on the contact list. The friend asked the school to send the little girl home on the bus with her own child before heading over to the duplex that Cory and her husband were renting. Inside, she came across a bloody scene and the dead bodies of twenty-six-year-old Cory Clark and her four-year-old daughter Jenna. Who could possibly commit a crime so vile and why?

            Cory Coomer was born on March 14th, 1977, in Anderson, Indiana to Blaine Coomer and Christine Flemming. She married John “Chip” Clark and the couple had two daughters. Their youngest daughter, Jenna, was born April 16th, 1999. The couple lived in a duplex in Lapel, Indiana. The young mother was looking forward to raising her children and possibly becoming a counselor. Jenna looked up to her older sister and was excited to start school the following year. The Clark family were full of hopes and dreams. That all changed on February 24th, 2004.

            On that February day, Cory was at home with her youngest daughter. Her older daughter was at school and her husband was out of town for work. Cory heard a knock on the front door. When she opened the door, a man asked her if he could use the phone. She agreed, and he followed her into the home. Once inside, the man attacked Cory, attempting to sexually assault her. The assailant was unable to complete the rape, so he cut Cory’s throat with a foldable hunting knife.

When he looked up, he saw four-year-old Jenna staring back at him in horror. The little girl turned and tried to run away, but she was no match for the evil person who had just killed her mother. The attacker easily caught up with the little girl and slit her throat so deep she was nearly decapitated.  When he was done with the murders, the man stole Cory’s purse, some cash, and some decorative stones. The man then fled, leaving the mother and daughter lying dead on the floor of their home.

The town of Lapel was devastated and shocked by the horrific crime that occurred that day. Detectives confirmed that Cory’s husband was out of town at the time of the crime. There seemed to be no forced entry at the scene, but there were items stolen including Cory’s purse. Detectives also suspected sexual assault, as Cory was partially undressed. Could this have been a random home invasion gone terribly wrong or were the victims specifically targeted? The police department had no suspects at first, as no one knew anyone who would have motive to brutally kill a young mother and her child.

The detectives canvased the neighborhood, trying to find any clues. Several neighbors mentioned a man had been in the neighborhood recently that they found suspicious. Some neighbors stated that they believed the man was from a construction site nearby. One neighbor said the man knocked on her door and asked to use the phone, but she didn’t let him inside. Witnesses said the man had a handicap sticker on a small, dark colored hatchback vehicle.

The police visited the construction site, looking for someone matching the description given by neighbors. They asked if there was an employee driving a dark colored hatchback vehicle with a handicap sticker.  That information was enough for multiple employees to point the finger at Frederick Baer. The foreman told detectives that Fred Baer was working on February 25th, but he left midday to go to the bathroom and didn’t return for over two hours. This evidence was enough for a judge to give the police a search warrant for Fred Baer’s home.

During the search, the police found a camouflage backpack lying in the middle of the floor in Baer’s bedroom. Inside the bag, twenty knives were found along with jewelry and personal property. That day, February 26th, the police arrested Frederick Michael Baer. Once in custody, Fred Baer admitted to committing multiple rapes and burglaries. Some of the jewelry and personal items found in the backpack belonged to his sexual assault victims.

When asked if he killed Cory and Jenna, Fred shook his head yes. However, he didn’t make a confession. Fred denied being involved in any thefts, rapes, or murders at first. When confronted with the evidence of the burglaries and rapes, Fred admitted to being a thief and a rapist. Multiple open rape cases in multiple Indiana counties were solved with the arrest of Fred Baer. He continued to deny involvement in the murders, saying he was targeted because he was an ex-con working nearby. He went on to say, “I didn’t kill anybody…I usually get high on the way to work… (but) I’m not a violent person” (Frederick Baer, 2004). He goes on to say, “I cry when a freakin’ butterfly gets hit on the windshield, because I love life. Did I got inside somebody’s house and kill them? No” (Frederick Baer, 2004).

Within weeks, however, DNA evidence from Baer’s car proved to be Jenna Clark’s blood. Fred did not know Jenna or her parents and had no other explanation for her blood being in his vehicle. He then changed the story again, admitting to the crime but claiming that he heard voices that told him to kill the mother and daughter. He claimed to be high on marijuana and methamphetamines at the time of the murder.

While awaiting trial, the prosecutor announced that he planned to seek the death penalty against Frederick Michael Baer. Meanwhile, prosecutors were given a tape-recorded call between Fred Baer and a family member. Fred talks about lying to doctors and said he needed to be coached before meeting with them. He asked his family member for help so that he “knows what to say”. Despite this revelation, Fred’s defense team entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill.

The citizens of Indiana were enraged to learn that Frederick Baer had a long history in the criminal justice system and should probably not have been out on the streets to rape and murder. Frederick Michael Baer was born in October of 1971. Fred was the youngest of six children. He had only met his father once, and certainly didn’t have a father figure. His stepfather, David Baer, adopted him when he was four years old. The family lived in Decatur, Illinois, until the late seventies when they moved to Indianapolis. According to Fred, this is when his family started to fall apart. He was very close to his oldest sister, Evelyn Green, but she was murdered in her home in 1983.

Fred took the loss of his sister very hard and began to spiral out of control. He began to use drugs including marijuana, speed, acid, and cocaine. He was arrested several times as a juvenile and was sent to inpatient drug rehabilitation at least twice. In 1992, Fred committed a home burglary while high on cocaine. He had already been convicted once of burglary and criminal recklessness, so this charge earned him a fourteen-year sentence in the Indiana Department of Corrections.

In 2000, Baer requested a transfer to a community transition program, but this request was denied. The judge cited Baer’s thirty-two write-ups for misconduct while in prison. In June of 2003, he was released into a community transition program. That is when he began to commit various burglaries, sexual assaults, and ultimately the murder of two innocent people. Citizens were outraged that he was not had been kept in prison after displaying a chronic disregard for other people and the law.

In June of 2004, Fredrick Baer swallowed a key that was stolen from a guard. An x-ray showed the key in his digestive system. Authorities waited for it to pass, repeating the X-ray the next day. This time, the key was not present. A search of his toilet revealed the key in the drain. Frederick Baer was charged with escape. Considering he was already facing multiple rape, burglary, and murder charges, the escape charge was of little consequence.

Fred was convicted of a rape in Hamilton County and was sentenced to eighty years in prison. He was convicted of three counts of burglary in Marion County, resulting in eighteen more years in prison. He received forty more years in prison for two counts of criminal deviate conduct in Hamilton County. For a burglary in Hamilton County, the court sentenced him to another twenty years. For just these crimes, not including the murder and robbery of Cory and Jenna Clark, Fred was facing 158 years in prison.

During jury selection, the prosecution incorrectly stated that “guilty but mentally ill” and “legal insanity” were the same. He also said, in front of prospective jurors, that life without parole may one day be abolished in Indiana. He also said that the Clark family preferred a sentence of death. The defense objected to this, at which time the judge said he “was not paying attention” and denied the objection. A jury was selected, and the case went to trial in 2006.

The prosecution included the DNA evidence found in Baer’s vehicle, the weapons confiscated, the identification by neighbors that he had been seen in the neighborhood, and his own confession to the crimes. Baer was no longer denying being a murderer, but his defense focused on proving he was mentally ill at the time of the crime. Dr. George Parker testified that he had examined Baer and diagnosed him with psychotic disorder. He also explained that Baer had a long history of drug abuse. Dr. Parker testified that Baer’s abuse of methamphetamine as something that would disturb his mental wellness, likely leading to psychosis at the time of the crime.

The prosecution countered the defense claim that Baer was suffering from methamphetamine induced psychosis at the time of the crime. His friend that he claimed to have gotten high with that day denied this, citing he was on parole and subject to routine drug testing. Toxicology expert Dr. Michael Evans testified that blood from Frederick Baer taken thirty-eight hours after the murders showed marijuana abuse but tested negative for methamphetamines. There had been a delay of thirteen months between when his blood was collected and finally tested, so the expert could not completely rule out Baer’s claim of having consumed methamphetamines.

The prosecution argued against Baer’s claims of mental illness by playing that recorded call to his family member while awaiting trial. In the tape, Baer said, “Yeah, and while we’re at it to boot, here let’s go ahead and say your stupid and insane so it will make it a little easier. Id on’t think so. Matter of fact, I ain’t got to worry about that cause I’m ready to go out here to the fucking doctor, tell this stupid son of a bitch a bunch of stupid lies”. The prosecution believed this proved Baer to be a manipulator.  Experts for the prosecution stated that Baer did not meet the standard for mentally ill.

It took less than four hours for the jury to find Frederick Michael Baer guilty of both murders as well as criminal confinement and burglary. For the criminal confinement charge, Baer was given an additional two years in prison and twenty for the robbery. For the murders, the sentencing phase of the trial began to decide if Fred Baer would face lethal injection or a lifetime in prison. The prosecution cited five aggravating factors: murder while committing the crime of attempted rape, murder while committing the crime of robbery, murder of two human beings, committing two murders while on parole, and murder of a child under the age of twelve.

The defense presented one witness, Dr. Mark Cunningham. Over seven hours, Dr. Cunningham discussed Baer’s prenatal and perinatal difficulties. His mother had cancer when pregnant and consumed chemotherapy medications. She also consumed alcohol while pregnant. Baer was born weak and underweight and was malnourished as a child. He further testified that Baer had a difficult time in school, spent time in and out of foster care, struggled with ADHD, had a history of a head injury, and that he had abused multiple drugs including alcohol, inhalants, methamphetamines, and other drugs. Dr. Cunningham suggested that the drug abuse had caused severe damage to Fred’s brain. The defense did not ask the doctor if their client met the standard for mentally ill.

On June 9th, 2005, the same jury that found him guilty sentenced Fred Baer to death. On death row, Frederick Baer quickly became the most hated inmate on death row. No one liked him due to the nature of his crime and the young age of Jenna Clark. Fred Baer kept to himself, in his cell for twenty-three hours per day. He was featured on a documentary about Indiana’s death row with Sir Trevor McDonald. He is shown playing with a black cat that he is allowed to keep in his cell. He talked about his exercise routine and pen pal girlfriend in Germany. Fred says that he is glad he is on death row, where he is segregated from other inmates, because he would likely be killed by other inmates in the general prison population.

Frederick Baer has exhausted most of his appeals by 2018. The United States 7th District of Appeals reversed Baer’s death sentence in 2018, citing ineffective counsel. The court ruled that Baer’s original defense counsel failed to object to the prosecutor’s inappropriate comments during jury selection including misleading the jury to believe mentally ill and insanity were the same standard, telling the jury that the family wanted the death penalty prior to the trial, and suggesting that life without parole may be abolished, possibly suggesting that the death sentence was the jury’s only chance to protect the public from Frederick Baer. Additionally, the defense attorneys failed to ask their own witness if Baer met the standard for guilty but mentally ill.

The state prepared to seek the death penalty again during resentencing, but the Clark family requested that they be spared the years of future appeals as Baer fights a death sentence. The family had already been through numerous appeals, constantly rehashing the trauma they had already endured. The Clark family did not want to start this process all over again. With this request, Fred Baer was given a plea agreement. He was released from death row into the prison’s general population to serve two terms of life without parole in addition to the nearly two-hundred years he was serving for his other crimes. Fred Baer will die in prison, but not by lethal injection. Perhaps he will die of old age, or possibly be the target of the prison violence he stated he feared in 2013 when speaking to Sir Trevor McDonald.



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