Woman fired fatal shot, prosecutors say

Woman fired fatal shot, prosecutors say

February 11th, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

DUNLAP, Tenn. -- Prosecutors say a former girlfriend fired the bullet that killed Clifford M. Carden Jr.

The motive, they say, was money.

Susan L. Baker and co-defendant Thomas Bryan Bettis, both 35, are charged with felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and setting fire to personal property in connection with Carden's death, authorities said.

Carden's body was found floating in the Sequatchie River on Feb. 3. He had been shot in the head. His burned-out car was found about 10 miles away on Savage Point Road.

Baker had romantic relationships with both Carden and Bettis, but the motive in the killing was Carden's money, Assistant District Attorney Steve Strain said Thursday in court.

"Ms. Baker pulled the trigger," Strain told General Sessions Judge L. Thomas Austin. "She's the shooter."

Baker and Bettis were in Sequatchie County General Sessions Court on Thursday for a hearing before Austin on their bonds and legal counsel.

Austin appointed public defender Jeff Harmon to represent Bettis and local attorney Rob Philyaw to represent Baker. He denied bond until a preliminary hearing set for 1:30 p.m. CST on Feb. 23.

Bettis turned himself in Tuesday afternoon, and Sequatchie authorities, Soddy-Daisy police, Hamilton County sheriff's deputies and state bomb and arson officials tracked Baker down in Soddy-Daisy late Tuesday night, authorities said.

Baker and Bettis entered the courtroom separately, Baker quiet and withdrawn, her back turned toward Bettis most of the time, her face stony.

Bettis, who was red-eyed and sighing despondently, left the courtroom once to compose himself.

They did not look at one another.

Strain said after the hearing that neither Baker nor Bettis has a criminal history with serious charges, though their records show some minor run-ins with law enforcement. He did not say what those previous charges were.

Authorities believe Carden was killed in the car, Strain said. He said Baker and Carden knew each other, but he didn't think Bettis and Carden knew each other.

"We know that she and Carden were together at a couple of beer joints in the Soddy/Sale Creek area several days before," he said.

Members of Baker's and Bettis' families were present at Thursday's hearing but declined comment. Carden's family did not attend the hearing.

According to affidavits filed in the case, investigators say Carden's body was dragged to the river and that Baker and Bettis took his car, money and prescription pills.

The affidavit didn't identify the kind of pills, and authorities declined to say.

Bettis and Baker had Carden's car when they checked into the Mountain Valley Inn in Dunlap and stayed Feb. 2 to Feb. 5, records state. A prescription pill bottle belonging to Carden was found by investigators in the motel's trash bin. The bottle appeared to have blood on it, authorities said.

On Feb. 3, Baker and Bettis went on a shopping spree at the Dunlap Walmart, paying with $100 bills. Records show the pair spent about $400 there and paid cash for their room at the inn.