By Jack Molitor
CNHI News Service
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. — Fredrick Michael Baer has an envelope in his solitary cell at the Indiana State Prison here. Inside is a letter asking his lawyers to end his death penalty appeals and allow him to die.
The 41-year-old Baer has been on death row for more than eight years. Legal challenges could extend his stay for another eight years.
Besides, he said, he deserves to die for the attempted rape and knife murder of 26-year-old Cory Clark and her 4-year-old daughter on Feb. 25, 2004, inside their home near the tiny town of Lapel in central Indiana.
“[I think about it ... every day,” sobbed Baer during a recent prison interview with the Anderson, Ind., Herald-Bulletin. "I’m so sorry ... so sorry.”
Still, he hasn't mustered sufficient courage to send the letter terminating his appeals even though he said he doesn't fear death.
“I have the paperwork ready to be dropped in the mail any day,” said Baer. “I live day by day. Death is just a transition for me at this point.”
His lead lawyer during his murder trial, Jeffrey Lockwood, said death row inmates go through a roller coaster of emotions but defense attorneys advise against cutting short the appeals process.
"Life shouldn’t be considered cheap. No matter who it is. That’s what I believe, and I think that’s how most people feel,” said Lockwood, who is now a prosecutor. “There are lots of ups and downs and emotions with the victim’s family, their own family. The entire process is very emotional for everybody."
Baer is confined to a small cell in a tall, brick building on the prison grounds, surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. The prison holds 2,000 of Indiana's most henious criminals, including 10 other death row inmates. State officials estimate it costs $1 million in trial and appeal costs for a death penalty convict.
In the past 25 years, 94 criminal defendants have been sentenced to death in Indiana. Twenty have been executed. Fifty-four cases were reversed by the state or the courts. It has been four years since the last person was put to death.
Baer spoke softly, emotionally during his prison interview. Shackles and chains restrained him from ankles to wrists. Long pauses and deep breaths interrupted his comments. He choked back tears and turned away from the camera in shame and regret when talking about the murders that put him on death row.
Baer said he was working at a construction site in Anderson, Ind., on the afternoon of the murders. He said he was suffering withdrawal from methamphetamine. Anxiety hammered in his head. Sweat seeped from his skin despite the February chill. With evil intent, he said he left work early to drive someplace. Any place to rob. Any woman to rape.
He drove to Lapel and parked near two homes. He approached one house and knocked on the door. A woman answered but cautiously kept Baer from looking inside. He asked to use her phone.
“She brought me the phone, but I was trying to get in," he recalled. "So I dialed something and gave her the phone back."
Down the road, he spotted a woman moving boxes outside. It was Cory Clark, wife of John Clark and mother of Jenna and Morgan. Her husband was in Florida looking for a job, and her older daughter Morgan was at school.
Baer knocked on Clark’s door.
“A little girl answered the door,” Baer said. “She went to get her mother, and I asked if I could use the phone.”
Cory Clark went to get her phone without noticing Baer was following her inside. She turned around and started to scream.
“I told her, ‘Don’t scream.’ ... Everything fell apart from there,” Baer said between long pauses. “I tried to rape her ... I killed her ... I cut her throat.”
Baer won’t talk about the murder of the four-year-old daughter. Investigators believe she ran from the room in terror, followed by Baer, who then restrained and killed her with the knife.
“They didn’t deserve to die,” Baer says through tears. “I don’t know why I did it. But every day I’ve thought about it ... for the past eight years. ... All the pain I’ve caused. All the hurt I’ve caused.
“I remember the words of [Cory Clark’s] mother on the witness stand: ‘Why?’ And I’ve asked that every day for the past eight years.”
Baer's double murder conviction was not his first encounter with the crime. In 1983, his sister was murdered by her ex-husband, tragically culminating a turbulent and abusive relationship.
Baer said her death was a turning point, causing him to turn to drugs and to stealing to support his addiction. By his late 20s, he was continually in and out of jail.
Law enforcement officials said he eventually became a serial rapist, using the ruse of needing to use a telephone to talk his way into women's homes. After his arrest in the Cory Clark case, investigators found "trophy" items taken from the homes of his victims.
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, who tried the Baer case, said if there’s one person in Indiana who should be put to death, it’s Baer.
Baer doesn't disagree.
"So many people's lives have been destroyed because of what I've done," he said. "All I can do is hope one day the family might forgive me, if that's even possible. I don't expect them to understand because I don't really understand. There's no reason for a person to do that to another person."
Jack Molitor is a writer for the Anderson, Ind., Herald-Bulletin.