Reporters hate to get beat, but I have to tip my hat to Erin Moriarty of CBS’s 48 Hours. Tomorrow evening, on Saturday, October 30, CBS is broadcasting back-to-back 48 Hours Mystery programs that examine the case of Matt Baker, the Baptist preacher in Waco who went from talented, up-and-coming pastor to grieving husband whose wife committed suicide to murder suspect maintaining his innocence to convicted killer.
In March 2008, I wrote a cover story on Matt and his wife, Kari. As part of that piece, I wrote about Matt’s alleged second life with other women that suggested he was hardly the humble, gentle pastor that so many people in Waco believed he was. I also wrote about the evidence suggesting that Matt had a mistress, Vanessa Bulls, a beautiful young woman who happened to be the daughter of the choir director at Matt’s church.
It was a fascinating case, with enough twists and turns to fill up a thriller. Matt was arrested, then charges were dropped, then there was a civil suit against him that led to a new indictment, which finally led to one of the most explosive murder trials in modern Texas history.
But Moriarty did something that no other journalist did: She stayed with the case, returning to Texas from New York dozens of times to interview Matt, his attorney, the prosecution, the police, and Kari’s mother, Linda Dulin, who refused to accept that her daughter had committed suicide, eventually hiring private investigators to look again at the case, which the police originally had dismissed as a suicide.
Moriarty told me that what makes Saturday night’s shows especially interesting is James Gray, Matt’s defense attorney. He allowed Moriarty and her crew to follow him from the very beginning as he put together his defense. At first, Gray is the great defender of Matt, convinced of his innocence, taking the case pro bono to right the wrongs of prosecutorial misconduct. And, for a while, you wonder if he is on the right path. But CBS’s cameras are there to catch Gray as he first realizes something is amiss. By the time Moriarty sits down with Gray after the trial for her final interview, he is a devastated, betrayed man who realizes that he has been completely misled. “It’s a rare moment when an attorney talks honestly about a case and a client,” Moriatry said. “I’m an attorney myself, and there were moments when I wanted to say, ‘Mr. Gray, are you sure you want to say this?’ But I’m a reporter first and what he finally told us is simply flabbergasting.”
In the programs, viewers will get their first look at Vanessa, the mistress who for years kept quiet before deciding to tell what she knew about Matt’s plan to kill Kari. She ruined her reputation by coming forward—she reportedly lost her job as a schoolteacher after the news broke that she had admitted she stayed silent about Matt’s plan to kill Kari—and she is still so humiliated by what she did that she has never granted an interview. But CBS obtained some police videotapes of her talking that are almost operatic.
In the end, of course, the most riveting character is Matt Baker. He gave plenty of interviews from the beginning of this saga and, incredibly, agreed to sit down with Moriarty for one last post-trial interview. She decimates him with her questions, especially when she asks why Vanessa would come forward with a story that ultimately won over the jury at trial. She also asks him, point-blank, “Are you ready to finally admit you killed your wife?” Matt’s answer, and the way he looks at Moriarty as he says it, is worth the price of admission alone.