Yolanda Baker; trial without a body

Yolanda Baker

This is only the third time a “no body” murder case, the most difficult for prosecutors, has been tried in the District in at least 30 years, according to a spokesman in the U.S. attorney’s office. Adding to the challenge for prosecutors is the lack of eyewitnesses to Baker’s disappearance or death. No murder weapon has been found and no cause of death established.

When Baker’s car was discovered almost a week after her disappearance, drops of her blood were found in the trunk, but no DNA from the man on trial, Terrence Barnett, Baker’s boyfriend. He was the last person to see her alive.

It’s been nearly 11 years since Yolanda Baker’s family has seen her. So much time had passed that authorities declared her legally dead last year, although her body has never been found. Last summer, authorities arrested Baker’s boyfriend, Terrence Barnett, 45, the father of the D.C. woman’s twin children. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

The two had lived together off and on in Baker’s house in the 400 block of 44th Street NE with their twins, who were 5 when Baker disappeared. The prosecution explained how the couple often argued and fought. Baker obtained a restraining order to keep Barnett away from her for about 18 months from 1997 to early 1999. Shortly before she disappeared, a District judge had ordered Barnett to pay Baker child support for the twins.

The defense told the jury that Barnett was innocent and that the DNA from two other individuals was found in the trunk of Baker’s car. Two other men had been driving Baker’s car around town. “There is more evidence that one of these two other men did it, not Mr. Barnett,” they said.

Barnett had a history of domestic violence and immediately became the lead suspect when Baker disappeared in 1999, but he avoided arrest for a decade. Baker’s family had pushed for the reopening of the investigation by the DC police’s Cold Case Unit. Crime-scene investigators found evidence that her former home had been cleaned with bleach and the carpet was missing in the master bedroom. DNA tests linked blood spatters in the bedroom to both Baker and Barnett, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit.

Barnett is being held without bond in the DC jail awaiting a preliminary hearing. If convicted, he could face a sentence of 40 years to life in prison. Read the Washington Post article here.