published Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Murder trial delayed for mental evaluation

Defendants in the slaying of Clifford M. Carden Jr., Susan Lynette Baker, in tan at left, and Thomas Bryan Bettis, right in tan, talk with their lawyers during a break in the hearing before General Sessions Judge L. Thomas Austin in this file photo.
Defendants in the slaying of Clifford M. Carden Jr., Susan Lynette Baker, in tan at left, and Thomas Bryan Bettis, right in tan, talk with their lawyers during a break in the hearing before General Sessions Judge L. Thomas Austin in this file photo.
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Bond for Susan Lynette Baker, one of two defendants charged in the 2011 shooting death of 55-year-old Bledsoe County, Tenn., resident Clifford Carden, was revoked Wednesday and she was ordered by the judge in the case to undergo further mental evaluation.

Baker, 35 when she was charged in February 2011, was released on $150,000 bond shortly after her arrest almost two years ago, but Circuit Court Judge Buddy Perry sent her back behind bars Wednesday after a discussion about the impact of Baker's medications on her competency evaluations, according to 12th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Steve Strain.

"There was proof from both psychologists that part of her issues with competence may have to do with her medication," Strain said.

Strain said Baker was placed in custody to provide a controlled environment to try to eliminate the impact of her medications on competency evaluations.

The competency hearing set for Wednesday was continued until May 3.

Baker already had undergone an outpatient state mental evaluation in August in which officials did not determine competency and recommended an inpatient evaluation, officials said. The inpatient evaluation performed in September determined she was competent and did not meet standards that would support an insanity defense.

Strain said Baker underwent another evaluation by a defense expert that put the matter before the court Wednesday.

The case arises from an investigation launched after Carden's body was found floating in the Sequatchie River on Feb. 3, 2011, according to officials, preliminary hearing testimony and newspaper archives.

Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office Detective Jody Lockhart testified in a February 2011 preliminary hearing that Baker told police she intended to rob Carden, not kill him. Lockhart testified that Baker talked about riding with Carden to pick up Thomas Bryan Bettis, who also is charged in the case, then going to south Sequatchie County where the fatal shot was fired.

According to 2011 testimony, Baker found a 9 mm Taurus pistol under the seat in Carden's car, which he was driving while Bettis sat in the back seat. Baker contended that Carden grabbed her left arm and that she drew the gun with her right hand and shot Carden in the right side of the head.

The car finally rolled to a stop with Carden dead at the wheel. Lockhart testified that Bettis said he didn't try to stop Baker because she threatened him.

The pair then took $1,005 in cash from Carden and used it in a shopping spree at the local Walmart and to pay for a three-night stay at a local motel, according to testimony. They dumped Carden's body in the Sequatchie River under Pickett's Bridge at Frank Tate Road.

Bettis turned himself in to Sequatchie authorities on Feb. 8, and Baker was taken into custody in Soddy-Daisy later the same day. Both are charged with felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and setting fire to personal property,

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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