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Murder in Fayette County: The Mike Mahon and Debra Tish Story

It was 3:30 am on August 4th, 2010, when a man in Loogootee, Illinois, awoke to his wife’s screams. He noticed a person attacking his wife, a person he knew. He screamed for his teenaged neighbor, Clifford Baker, to stop attacking his wife. The fifteen-year-old then attempted to attack the man with a knife before fleeing into the darkness. The man made a 911 call that started changed the lives of Loogootee residents forever.

When police arrived at the scene, they were informed of the identity of the perpetrator and quickly responded to the suspect’s home, less than a football field away from where the call came from. Upon approaching the home, officers heard shouting in the garage and witnessed fifteen-year-old Clifford Baker trying to harm himself with a staple gun while his father tried to disarm him. Clifford was agitated and uncooperative. Police used a stun gun to subdue the teenager before placing him under arrest. At that time, they were informed by the boy’s father and the neighbors whose home the teen had broken into that their other neighbors, Mike Mahon and Debra Tish, should be checked on.

Police knocked on the door to Mike Mahon and Debra Tish’s home, but the knocks went unanswered. They entered the home to find a grisly scene. Two guns lay on the kitchen table. On a mattress in the living room were Debra Tish and Mike Mahon partially covered with a sheet. They had both been shot multiple times in the head. They were pronounced dead around 4:30 am on the morning of August 4th, 2010.

John Michael Mahon, who was known as Mike, was born January 31st, 1950, in Fayette County. He was a mechanic and had previously owned his own repair shop. After heart issues forced his retirement, he enjoyed spending time with his family and life-partner Debra Tish. Mike liked hunting, fishing, and going to the casino. He was the proud father of two sons and a daughter and was a grandfather as well.

Debra Tish was born April 9th, 1957, in Fayette County. Debra was a line worker at Brown’s Produce in Farina. She was a person who loved her family, was always smiling and joking, and genuinely loved life. She enjoyed fishing and taking boat trips. When she and Mike became partners, she became a stepmother to his children and step grandmother to the grandchildren.

Clifford Baker was born December 18th, 1994, in Fayette County. When he was three years old, his mother went to prison. Clifford went to live with his grandmother at that time, with whom he was very close. During school, he was frequently bullied related to having a learning disability and requiring special education classes. At age ten, Clifford lost his grandmother, and he was sent to live with his father.

Clifford described his father as an alcoholic. At the age of ten, Clifford himself began to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with the death of his grandmother. He was now living in Loogootee, a tiny town with just 23 residents. By 2010, his father’s girlfriend and her son were also living in the home. However, Clifford was one of only two teenagers in the entire sleepy town.

On July 22nd, 2010, Clifford and his father got into an argument and the teen, age fifteen at the time, began to drink alcohol. He then broke into his uncle’s home and took a .22 caliber rifle. He returned home and continued an alcohol binge. The family’s dog started to annoy him, so he shot the dog with the gun. Fearing he would get into trouble; he dumped the dog’s corpse near some railroad tracks and returned home. Upon returning home, Clifford shot himself in the abdomen with the rifle before calling 911.

When police arrived, he told them an intruder had shot him. He was taken to a local hospital, at which time he confessed that there was no intruder and that he had killed himself. He was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri for admission into a pediatric psychiatric unit. At the hospital, it was determined that Clifford was suffering from severe depression, and he was prescribed the anti-depressant medication Cymbalta. He was discharged from the unit on July 30th after showing great improvement. He was instructed to continue to take the Cymbalta daily.

On the afternoon of August 3rd, 2010, Clifford went with his dad’s girlfriend and her son to the pool. Upon returning home, the family ate dinner together. Around 9 p.m., the family watched a movie together. They went to sleep around 11 o’clock according to his father’s girlfriend. She was awakened, however, at 2:45 am when Clifford came into the bedroom she shared with his father. The teen complained of not feeling well and being too hot. His father told him to lay in front of the air vent in his room and the teen went back to his bedroom.

Instead of going to sleep though, Clifford Baker began drinking alcohol. He had also taken six Cymbalta pills and smoked marijuana. He decided to leave and enter the garage of his neighbor, Mike Mahon. He took some vodka, but it was too spicy, so he stopped drinking the liquor, tossing the bottle into a bush. He returned home and smoked some more pot. He texted a girl he had met on a social media site, telling her he “felt weird” and “thought he might do something bad”.

Clifford than returned to the home of Mike and Debra (pictured). He entered their home, finding a rifle and military style gun inside. He started to smoke a cigarette inside the home and accidentally set off the smoke detector. Debbie awoke and was shocked to see a someone intruding in her home. She threatened to call 911. Clifford shot her in the head. He then shot a startled Mike in the head. He shot Mike three more times and Debra two more times, ensuring both were dead. He left the two guns on the kitchen table and left.

Clifford then left the home and entered the house of another neighbor. When a female awoke and started to scream, Clifford punched her in the face. Her husband then awoke and recognized Clifford. Clifford swung a knife towards him but did not make contact. He then fled back to his home. The neighbor said he was flapping his arms and making strange noises. As the neighbor was dialing 911, Clifford once again entered his father’s bedroom at approximately 3:45 am.

According to his father’s girlfriend, he was speaking gibberish, was agitated, and acting very strange. The boy lit a cigarette and was cursing, things he never did in front of his father. His father asked him “What is wrong with you?”, to which Clifford replied “I killed them. The whole world is dead”. Clifford then pleaded with his father to follow him next door so he could show him what he had done. His father had to get dressed and was not moving fast enough for Clifford.

Once dressed, Clifford’s father found him in the garage with a staple gun to his own neck. As his father tried to get the staple gun from his son, police arrived. Clifford lost control of the staple gun but continued to be agitated and uncooperative. Police used a stun gun to subdue him and put him into hand cuffs. Clifford was then transported to a local hospital for evaluation.

Clifford Baker was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.118 at the time of his arrest and tested positive for marijuana. They found the knife he pulled on his neighbor in a nearby field. On his person at the time was a cell phone, lighter, rolling papers, and a bottle of nitroglycerin pills that Clifford admitted to taking from the home of Mike Mahon. He told police he had been drinking, had taken six Cymbalta pills, and had taken other prescription medication as well as smoked weed.

Clifford Baker was interviewed by police at approximately 7:18 am on August 4th, 2010. He was noted to be drowsy but coherent. According to police, he seemed to understand his Miranda rights. The interview, which was video-taped, lasted approximately 48 minutes. Clifford Baker confessed that after arguing with his father, he began to drink. He admitted to breaking into Mike Mahon’s house and taking vodka and some marijuana. He said he texted the girl he met online before returning to the home. This time, he found a rifle in the kitchen. He said he tried to kill himself with it, but the gun didn’t fire. He said he lit a cigarette and threw it in the garbage can, causing a small fire that set off the smoke detector. He didn’t want to get in trouble, so he shot Mike and Debra. He also admitted to breaking into the other neighbors’ home and attacking them. He was not sure if he had stabbed the neighbor or not but was sure he had punched his wife. He tossed the knife in the field after fleeing, which is exactly where police would find it.

Clifford Baker was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and home invasion on August 5th, 2010. His attorney believed that the teenager was mentally unfit and was insane at the time of the crimes. A competency hearing was held, and Clifford was found competent to stand trial in December of 2010. Although he was only fifteen years old at the time of the crime, the case was automatically transferred to adult court per Illinois law.

The trial began in August of 2011. The evidence against him included Clifford’s confession, blood on his clothing that matched the DNA of one of the victims, and the testimony of the neighbors and the defendant’s family. The doctor who examined Clifford in July of 2010 and prescribed Cymbalta told the jury that Clifford was diagnosed with depression and that the benefits of Cymbalta outweighed the risks. He said that Clifford expressed suicidal thoughts while hospitalized, but never voiced homicidal thoughts. He also said that at the time of discharge, Clifford had improved greatly and posed no risk to himself or others.

A clinical psychologist also testified for the prosecution. He examined Clifford in October 2010 and August 2011. He diagnosed Clifford with conduct disorder, stating he exhibited persistent behavior that violated the rights of others. He described Clifford as evasive, deceptive, and manipulative. He claimed that Clifford used deception to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. He did not believe Clifford was psychotic at the time of the murders.

Clifford’s defense never denied that he was the person who killed Mike Mahon and Debra Tish. However, the defense insisted that Clifford was psychotic at the time of the crime. Dr. Marcia Slomowitz, a psychologist, testified that Clifford suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts, and had been sexually abused. He was agitated at the time of the crimes and suffered from homicidal night terrors. She said that Clifford suffered from akathisia, characterized by internal restlessness, and hypomania. She also explained, along with another expert witness, that Cymbalta carries a black box warning.

A black box warning is the most severe warning from the FDA. Cymbalta carries a black box warning because it can cause suicidal ideation in people under age twenty-four when they first begin taking the medication. Several lawsuits have been filed against Cymbalta related to this side effect including the following incidents:

· February 2004- college student Traci Johnson commits suicide while taking Cymbalta

· December 2004- 16-year-old Peter Schlif committed suicide on Christmas eve

· 2005- Eli Lilly, makers of Cymbalta, agreed to an undisclosed settlement in the death of Traci Johnson

· 2012- Class action lawsuit filed in California

· 2013- Eli Lilly settles with the family of Peter Schlif

· December 2013- South Carolina court rules in favor of Eli Lilly in a lawsuit that claimed the company did not warn users about the side effects

According to the defense for Clifford Baker, he was taking the medication for only 12 days prior to the crime. He had also taken more than prescribed and combined the medication with alcohol and drugs. The defense claims that these factors along with his underlying mental health issues caused him to be psychotic at the time. The defense claimed that the neighbors accounts of him shouting and flapping his arms and his family’s testimony about him acting strange and agitated supported this claim.

In August of 2011, Clifford Baker was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion. His sentencing hearing began in October 2011. The defense presented mitigating factors including Clifford’s unstable childhood with a mother who was incarcerated, an alcoholic father, the loss of his grandmother at a young age, his need for special education, persistent bullying from peers, and side effects of Cymbalta. He was sentenced to two counts of life in prison with no possibility of parole plus thirty years for the home invasion.

Later in 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled that juveniles could not receive automatic life sentences. The State of Illinois had to re-evaluate all cases in which juveniles were sentenced to automatic life sentences. Illinois law makers also pushed to change the law that automatically charged juveniles fifteen years and older as adults for violent crimes, seeking to increase that to sixteen years old. In a 2015 appeal, Clifford Baker cited the United States Supreme Court ruling. The court did not overturn his conviction but did overturn his sentencing.


In April of 2017, Clifford Baker was resentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole until February 4th, 2094. At that time, he will be 99 years old. Family of his victims expressed relief after the hearing. “No other family has to go through the nightmare we have endured” said one family member (Graham Milldrum Daily News, 2017). Another family member said “Deb and Mike were the most loving, outgoing people you could ever meet. They would give you the shirts off their backs if they thought you needed it more than them” (Graham Milldrum Daily News, 2017).

Clifford Baker is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center in Southern Illinois. He had received his GED, attended substance abuse classes, and behavior therapy since his incarceration.

References

Eldeib, D. (2015) Young Killers, varied fates. Chicago Tribune. 12 Jun 2015

Associated Press (2011) Killings still rattle tiny town. Journal Gazette. 02 Apr 2011C

Associated Press (2011) Teen gets life for killing sleeping neighbors. Northwest Herald. 01 Oct 2011

Associated Press (2011) Lawyer says teen was insane when he shot neighbors. Herald and Review. 17 Aug 2011

Suhr, J. (2010) Teen ordered to stand trial in slaying. Southern Illinoisan. 11 Dec 2010

Lowe, K. (2010) 15-year-old accused in Fayette County double murder. Journal Gazette. 06 Aug 2010

PEOPLE v. BAKER | FindLaw

Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)

Clifford Baker will remain in prison for life after double murder | Local News | effinghamdailynews.com

Debra J. “Deb” Tish (1957-2010) - Find a Grave Memorial

John Michael “Mike” Mahon (1950-2010) - Find a Grave Memorial

http://www.drugwatch.com/cymbalta/lawsuits/

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