Thomas J. Fox stabbed Lori Baker 48 times during a prolonged struggle in her Oakdale apartment and then made dozens of withdrawals on her debit card to pay “hookers and crackheads,” a Washington County prosecutor told a jury on the first day of testimony in his first-degree premeditated murder trial.
“Lori Baker never had a chance,” Imran Ali told the nine men and five women assembled for an expected five-day trial. “The defendant is the only one with the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill Lori Baker.”
Baker, 39, employed as a nanny for two children, was found dead in her Oakdale apartment on Dec. 28, 2011.
A year ago, a Washington County grand jury indicted Fox, who had dated Baker briefly until she discovered his true identity and criminal history in an online search.
Fox, 46, of St. Paul, has been in and out of prison for years on robbery, theft and drug charges. He is being held in Stillwater Prison on an unrelated charge until August. He was under house arrest at a halfway house in St. Paul but walked away, and Baker was killed during that time.
When Baker didn’t show up for work that morning, her employer went looking for her. The woman, who brought her children to the apartment, found Baker’s body under a bloody comforter on the bedroom floor, Ali said.
The day after Baker’s body was discovered, Ali said, Minneapolis police caught Fox having sex with a prostitute in Baker’s car.
He fled but was captured soon afterward at a downtown bus depot where he was attempting to leave the city under a false identity, Ali said.
“The state is going to present to you an overwhelming amount of evidence,” he said.
Defense attorney Rebecca Waxse, in her opening statement to the jury, conceded that Fox was a crack addict and his actions “were despicable and inexcusable but that is not the whole story.”
Waxse said Fox had lived with Baker but had left her apartment before she was murdered to find a fix for his drug habit.
When he returned “in his drunken high state he knew something was wrong,” Waxse said. “There he was a black man, a fugitive, in the apartment of a white woman [who was] covered in blood.”
Fox ran away out of fear he would be implicated, Waxse said. “He used her debit card and smoked crack and slept with prostitutes. He did what he could to bury that fear deep inside of him.”
Police did a “superficial investigation” that doesn’t implicate Fox beyond the color of his skin, Waxse said. Baker’s car “had not a speck” of her blood, nor did his clothes, she said.
“You can believe rumor, and you can believe innuendo, or you can believe fact,” she told the jury.
The first witness called Friday, a former resident of Baker’s apartment building, said she heard stomping noises the night of the murder in Baker’s apartment above her. “Scream after scream after scream,” was how the witness described the noise that followed.
An Oakdale police detective, Sgt. Scott Olson, testified that when he arrived at the apartment “it looked like there had been some type of struggle” with items including a computer monitor knocked over.
He said he smelled a strong odor of laundry detergent in the bedroom and a blue substance was splashed on the walls near bloodstains.
Public defender Virginia Murphrey, in cross-examining Olson, pressed him on whether police had looked for other suspects besides Fox from the start.
“No,” Olson said.
Baker’s family left the courtroom before Ali showed the jury a photograph of her body at the murder scene.
She was stabbed in the chest, face, back and stomach, he said.
The trial is expected to continue through the end of next week with both prosecution and defense witnesses.