"Texas law states that a justice of the peace can conduct an inquest — or determine the cause and circumstances of a person’s death — where the person died, where the body was found, or 'at any other place determined to be reasonable by the justice.'”
"With no qualifications required, a vague law to follow and only voters as
their bosses, McLennan County’s eight justices of the peace make rulings on
every death, even those attended by some physicians. They can seek information
from the person’s family, an autopsy, law enforcement, doctors and what they’ve
learned in their training."
I left a comment on the online article, but I think it was either too long or contained a link or maybe just too bold to be published. So I will just post it here in my forum and invite your comments and thoughts on the matter:
Erin, those two quotes from your article speak volumes. As citizens of McLennan County, we have the authority and duty to vote in the best people to be our Justices of the Peace. We have to vote in Justices of the Peace that are not only wise and vigilant but also inquisitive and caring enough that we can trust them to use this wisdom and vigilance to make informed, reasonable determinations.
Granted, there are not a lot of murders in Hewitt, Texas and this is not routine for these officers. Mistakes were made, yes. But at least three officers/detectives with the Hewitt PD made reference to an autopsy. The following information is all on the record and can be found by viewing or downloading the August 29, 2007 formal inquest proceedings from the WacoTrib.com. You will find that link here: http://www.wacotrib.com/news/crime/MattBaker/
Sergeant Kasting was the FIRST one to call JP Martin. He reported his findings at the scene to him. He read the typed suicide note to JP Martin. I do not know if he indicated to him that it was an un-signed, typed note or not. That would be interesting to know. Then Detective Bond arrives at the scene and takes the photographs and asks Kasting if an autopsy was ordered. Detective Bond must have had a reason to ask. Sergeant Kasting didn't specifically ask JP Martin if he wanted to order an autopsy in his first phone call so he called JP Martin a SECOND time and specifically asked about ordering an autopsy. JP Martin said that no, at that time he wasn't going to order one. Then Detective Cooper arrives on the scene. He and Sergeant Kasting discuss their observations. Detective Cooper asks specifically if he had contacted a justice of the peace and Kasting said that he had and that JP Martin did not want to order an autopsy. Detective Cooper was concerned enough that he contacted JP Martin himself. This was the THIRD phone call by authorities on the scene to JP Martin in the early morning hours of April 8. Detective Cooper went over his observations with JP Martin and even on this third phone call, JP Martin still did not order an autopsy. Detective Cooper was still so concerned about this lack of order for autopsy, that he called his police captain and informed him of the situation. Police captain actually said it was okay and that if the justice of the peace didn't want an autopsy, they wouldn't have one.
Lots of balls were dropped during this whole investigation and ordeal leading up to Matt's second arrest, indictment and finally his conviction. And I know that people make mistakes and that Justice of the Peace Martin is only human. But God Lord, even after THREE phone calls from authorities on the scene, he doesn't think it's even important or curious enough to pause, ask questions or attempt to come to the scene for himself? This was his "reasonable determination"? I would also like to add that even on the witness stand at the murder trial, JP Martin seemed to take no responsibility or have any regrets for not ordering an autopsy on Kari's murdered body. Has he learned nothing from this horrible mistake? Has he done the same thing since Kari's murder? Will he continue to do so in the future? Is this what the voters and taxpayers of McLennan County deserve from their justices of the peace?
I do give thanks that in August of 2007, Justice of the Peace Martin finally rose to the task of asking investigative questions at this formal inquest and taking the big step forward in changing his previous un-investigated ruling on cause of death as suicide to the slightly more-informed ruling on cause of death as undetermined. That started the ball rolling for Justice for Kari. For that, I do thank you Justice Martin. And I hope and pray that all of McLennan County Justices of the Peace remember the travesty of justice shown to Kari Dulin Baker (and her daughters and family) for so long before due diligence finally came to her murder case.