An eight-woman, four-man Sequatchie County jury took just three hours Thursday to convict Susan Lynette Baker of felony murder.
The decision, which was announced shortly before 4 p.m. CST, came less than half a day after defense and prosecution attorneys agreed, during their respective closing arguments, that the jury was not being asked to decide whether Ms. Baker fired the shot that killed Clifford Cardin on Feb. 2, 2011.
Rather, jurors were told shortly before they began deliberating early Thursday afternoon, the question they must answer was whether she fired as part of an attempt to rob him.
That’s exactly what happened, prosecutors said. Find the defendant guilty of felony murder, jurors were told, and “You can go home tonight and put your head on your pillow, and your head will rest easy.”
However, defense attorney Sam Hudson, noting that his client had no criminal history prior to the shooting despite the fact she has been a drug addict most of her adult life, said Ms. Baker is too disorganized to have planned and carried out a complicated crime.
Evidence indicates that Mr. Cardin was driving his vehicle with Ms. Baker sitting beside him, the defense attorney said. Mr. Cardin grabbed her arm, he continued, and – without even aiming – Ms. Baker fired in Mr. Cardin’s general direction with the pistol she had discovered earlier under her seat.
The bullet struck Mr. Cardin in the head and killed him, according to evidence presented during the trial.
The defense attorney said Ms. Baker didn’t know the victim had more than $1,000 in the car until after she and her alleged accomplice, Brian Bettis, had already dumped the dead man’s body in the Sequatchie River.
Under the law, the killing fits the definition of reckless homicide, not felony murder, he told jurors.
No way, prosecutor Steve Strain countered. The reason Mr. Cardin grabbed the defendant’s arm was because he realized she was stealing from him, he said.
Mr. Cardin sold prescription medications for money, according to the prosecutor, and Ms. Baker was an addict. They were together often, he continued, and according to her own testimony she knew he always carried $200 to $300 when they went somewhere together.
“We’re not arguing she intended to kill Clifford Cardin,” he said. “She intended to rob him . . . and felony murder is unlawful killing during the course of (committing) an illegal act.”