Some inmates who served time with Thomas J. Fox were so disturbed by his words and demeanor that they broke a jailhouse taboo on snitching and helped finger him in the brutal killing of an Oakdale nanny, police say.
The longtime criminal was in court Friday after being indicted by a Washington County grand jury in the fatal stabbing and robbery of Lori Christine Baker as she tried to break up with him last December.
The state's key witnesses include some who served time with Fox, 44, of St. Paul, who was a fugitive when he first met Baker and began dating her -- all the while using a fake name, according to one ex-convict who met Fox in prison.
Fox appeared in Washington County District Court on one count of first-degree premeditated murder of Baker, 39, as well as one count of first-degree murder in the course of an aggravated robbery.
County Attorney Pete Orput asked for $2 million bail, but Judge Elizabeth Martin set it at $200,000 after hearing that Fox would be held in Stillwater prison on an unrelated charge until August 2013.
Fox has been held for about four months at the Ramsey County jail and Stillwater prison on a parole violation for armed robbery. Meantime, police and prosecutors have built their murder case, while awaiting lab results from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on bloodied items, including Fox's clothing.
A half-dozen inmates who served time with Fox were so shaken that they called police to talk about him, and several have become state's witnesses after hearing Fox talk about Baker, authorities said.
Oakdale Police Capt. Mike Grill said he figures that many current and former inmates stepped forward in the case not only because they were troubled by Fox's brutal nature, but also because it was an unusual charging situation with Fox incarcerated for so long. "One thing [inmates who called] pretty much all have in common is that 'this is a really bad guy,' " Grill said.
A deadly 'mistake'
Fox has been in and out of prison for years on robbery, theft and drug charges.
Baker, a religious nanny with a sterling reputation in her field, was stabbed multiple times in her apartment. Her car and credit cards were used after her death.
Orput presented two days of testimony before a Washington County grand jury before receiving the indictment. He said after Friday's court appearance that he pursued the indictment because that's the only way he could prosecute Fox for first-degree murder. Fox next will appear before Judge Gregory Galler on May 3.
One former Stillwater inmate, who called the Star Tribune after being released from prison, said in an interview that as a father himself, he sympathizes with Baker's father, and that he wants to help her family by letting them know what happened to Baker. That inmate, who asked that his name not be published because he fears retaliation, said he had many conversations with Fox and thinks it's the right thing to step forward.
He said Fox often talked about Baker, saying she was naive and gullible. He met her at the Oakdale apartment complex where his relative lives, a fact police confirm.
One day, "she made the worst mistake of her life," the inmate said, when she found Fox's work credentials in her apartment, discovered his true identity and went online, where she learned of his violent criminal history and his prison stints.
"He said she found out about his background, they argued, and it got out of hand," said the inmate, who later contacted Grill.
The account is consistent with other calls from inmates, Grill said.
Baker had told Fox that the relationship was over, and then "she got stabbed up," the inmate said.
When Baker failed to show up for her nanny job Dec. 28 in Afton, her employer went to Baker's apartment in the 6200 block of 12th Street N. and found her dead.
Fox was a suspect from the start. He had been sought for months since walking away from a halfway house on Dayton Avenue in St. Paul, where he was supposed to be under house arrest.
When police arrested him in December, they found blood on his clothing and on the driver's side of Baker's car, authorities said.
The inmate, who called Fox a "demon" with red eyes, said Fox talked about driving around Minneapolis in her car and using her credit cards to buy gas while on a crack binge with another woman.
"It has been bothering me that I'm holding something like that in," the ex-inmate said. "You can do a lot of things in this world, but killing people, and hurting children and people in general, that's where I draw the line."
Reporter Kevin Giles contributed to this report. Joy Powell • 651-925-5038