Editor’s note: On January 20, the jury returned with a guilty verdict against Matt Baker, the former Baptist minister in Waco who had long been suspected of murdering his wife. The key witness in the case against Matt was his former mistress, Vanessa Bulls, who provided bombshell testimony earlier this week. Here is Skip Hollandsworth’s report about Vanessa’s day on the witness stand, in which she publicly talked for the first time about what she knew.
On Tuesday, January 19, after twenty-five witnesses had testified for the state, Vanessa Bulls finally arrived at the Waco courthouse to tell her story—and it was everything the prosecutors promised, one gripping anecdote after another that could have come straight out of a potboiler novel.
If Vanessa was to be believed, she was a naive woman, still upset and struggling from her recent divorce, who found herself being seduced by Matt Baker, her charming, manipulative pastor—a man who confided to her about his plot to kill his wife and who then made it clear to Vanessa that very bad things might happen to her if she ever told police about what she knew. She was so scared of Matt—and so ashamed at her own actions—that for years she never did say a word, not to police, prosecutors, or even members of her own family.
Now 27 years old and a seventh-grade language arts teacher at a junior high in Harker Heights in the Killeen school district—she also coaches track and volleyball—Vanessa is a beautiful young woman. When she walked into the courtroom, she was wearing a flattering gray pantsuit, her blond hair falling to her shoulders. The news media that was assembled—reporters from newspapers and all of the local TV stations, the Associated Press, CBS’s 48 Hours, TruTV, and ABC’s 20/20—stopped scribbling notes to stare at her. Matt Baker himself, wearing a gray tweed blazer with a light blue shirt, tie, and khaki pants, also stared at her, as if he was once again overwhelmed by her beauty, his stunning blue eyes barely blinking.
Refusing to show emotion, he took notes as Vanessa began to testify. (If you want more detail about her testimony, go to the Waco Tribune’s Web site to read the story by Tribune-Herald staff writer Tommy Witherspoon and the live blogging of the trial by Erin Quinn.) She said that she met Matt and Kari in September 2005, when her father went to work at Crossroads Baptist Church, where Matt was the pastor. About three months later, she said, Baker spotted her sitting alone in the sanctuary before the service started and asked about her divorce. He told her, “Whoever finds you is going to be a lucky man.”
Vanessa said Matt started calling her “regularly.” He asked her whether she needed counseling from her recent divorce. “God can get you through anything,” he told her. He did start counseling her, and his flirtations grew more obvious as the months wore on. One time he heard Vanessa talking about dating and he said, apparently joking, “Oh, don’t date other guys. Just date your pastor.”
During their counseling sessions, Matt began talking about Kari, telling Vanessa that she was so depressed that she had become “a horrible mother and a horrible wife.” He said that he had become Mr. Mom, doing everything for the couple’s other two daughters except for fixing their hair. Though Vanessa said that Kari never seemed depressed when she saw her at church—she said she and Kari talked about school, God, and the children