Friday, September 5, 2008
New Kid on the Row - Cornelius Baker
Some criminals, like Cornelius Baker and his girlfriend Patricia Roosa, are stupid. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. While casing a Daytona Beach neighborhood for future burglaries, Baker spied a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria and convinced himself that he had to have it. So instead of getting a job and working to buy a similar one, he decided to take the car by force. His stupid girlfriend went along with his plan. Within eighteen hours, one innocent person was dead, two others were injured and traumatized, and the thugs were looking at a possible date with Old Sharpie.
January 7, 2007.
At 8:30 Sunday morning, Elizabeth Uptagrafft, 58, heard someone knocking at the front door of her ranch-style home. When she opened it, a stranger began pistol-whipping her. One of the blows caused the .38-caliber revolver to discharge. The bullet grazed her skull and Elizabeth fell to the floor.
It was the beginning of an ordeal that would end with her death.
Cornelius Baker, 21, and Patricia Roosa, 20, both had criminal records. They were anxious to escape the heat of Florida and head to New York, so they decided to invade the house and steal the car of the occupants.
The homeowner’s screams and the gunshot brought Elizabeth’s 73-year-old mother out of her room. Charlene Burns, who suffered from chronic pulmonary disease and used oxygen tubes to breathe, later testified that as she came out into the hallway, she was attacked by Baker.
“My daughter was begging, ‘Please don’t hurt my mama,’” said Burns. As the helpless woman was punched mercilessly, she crumpled to the floor.
The commotion brought a third member of the household out of his bedroom. Joel Uptagrafft, 41, had been asleep. As he opened his door, Baker sucker-punched him. Like his mother, he was pistol-whipped with such brutality that within seconds, Joel lay unconscious on the floor.
Baker and Roosa spent two hours searching the house, stealing jewelry and $ 140 in cash. They also took Elizabeth’s credit card and forced her to reveal the pin number. Finally, Roosa yelled at Baker. “Hurry up,” she said. “Hurry up. Kill them if you you’re going to, but let’s go.”
The assailants dragged the bloodied Elizabeth Uptagrafft from her home and forced her into the car. In his confession, Baker later told investigators that he kidnapped her because he thought she had given him the wrong pin number for her ATM card.
They drove 24 miles north to Bunnell.
“Are you going to let me live?” Elizabeth asked.
Baker assured her that he wouldn’t kill her even as he drove to a remote area. A mile south of State Road 100, he drove down a dirt trail called Black Point Road.
Meanwhile, Joel Uptagrafft regained consciousness and made his way to a neighbor’s house. Sophia McDaniels answered the knock on the door. “This guy was standing there bleeding,” she said. “Blood was coming from his head. His whole face was covered in blood.” McDaniels didn’t recognize her neighbor. She left him on the porch while she called police.
Daytona Beach police quickly alerted agencies from surrounding counties. An area-wide search for the Crown Victoria and the missing woman began. Cops also put a trace on Elizabeth’s credit card. Within a short time, the card was used at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Bunnell.
A few hours later, a Bunnell police officer, Sgt. Randy Burke, was patrolling the area around Winn-Dixie when he spotted the stolen car. As Burke attempted to stop it, Baker sped off. A few blocks away, the suspect crashed the car. He was able to get away from pursuing officers, but Roosa was captured. Two hours later, Baker was arrested.
It didn’t take long for him to crack. He told police that he had let Elizabeth out of the car, then decided to kill her. As he got out, the victim attempted to flee. Baker stated that he shot her twice. “She was falling,” he said, “and before she hit the ground, that’s when I fired. I fired the gun two times.”
Unfortunately, his story didn’t match the facts of Elizabeth’s death. Forensic evidence indicated that she’d been shot at point-blank range, once in the neck and once in the forehead. Powder burns showed that the gun was just a few inches away when it was fired.
In August, 2008, Cornelius Baker went on trial. After a two hour deliberation, he was found guilty of first degree murder and kidnapping. The jury voted 9-3 for the death penalty and Judge Kim C. Hammond concurred.
Brenda Gillespie, Elizabeth’s sister, agreed with the verdict. She said, “My sister deserves our government to stand up and say, ‘We are not going to have this. People can have breakfast and lay around on a Sunday morning without being murdered.’”
Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood summarized the feelings of many who were in the courtroom. “[Elizabeth Uptagrafft] answers a knock at her door and she’s greeted with a smash to the side of her face and a gunshot that creases her forehead,” he said. “It was senseless. You could have robbed a 7-Eleven and got more money than they did here.”
Patricia Roosa’s trial will be held later this year. She also faces the death penalty if convicted.
Cornelius Baker will soon join 388 other inmates on Florida’s death row.
NOTE: Roosa was convicted and given life without parole.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 3:44 AM