Judge rules in Baker murder case

Venango County President Judge Oliver J. Lobaugh granted a prosecution request Friday in the Tausha Baker murder case.

Lobaugh issued a ruling that will allow prosecutors to file three aggravated circumstances in addition to the original charges against Richard Kennedy, 29, of Vandergrift.

Kennedy, along with Amanda Cypher, 33, of Franklin, are accused of killing 25-year-old Baker, of Franklin. Her body was discovered severely burned in a fire on Waterworks Road on Oct. 27.

Lobaugh presided at an April 13 hearing where District Attorney Shawn White requested a time extension to file the additional circumstances.

White argued the Commonwealth didn’t have sufficient evidence to file the circumstances until after Kennedy’s formal arraignment date on Dec. 14, which he waived.

The aggravated circumstances include evidence not present at the Nov. 13 preliminary hearing that Kennedy and Cypher tortured Baker and kidnapped her from a residence at 1313 New St. in Franklin before taking her to Waterworks Road where she was finally killed.

Previously, police had believed Baker was beaten to death at the New Street home.

Other missing evidence involved Baker being tortured at the site of her murder. The extent of Baker’s injuries were unknown to prosecutors until March 29, when the district attorney’s office received the autopsy report – over two months after Venango County coroner Christina Rugh had received it.

Rugh called the delay an oversight on her part during her testimony and went on to describe Baker’s multiple wounds, including 19 sharp force injury wounds to the head and neck, 10 blunt force trauma wounds to the head, 11 sharp force injury wounds to the back and lower chest and three sharp force injury wounds to the extremities.

Baker’s cause of death was cited as multiple sharp force injury wounds and blunt force trauma to the head.

The final aggravated circumstance stemmed from the apparent motive behind Baker’s murder, which was a failed drug transaction.

Police had no direct evidence of the failed transaction until speaking with Cypher during an interview in December, said Franklin patrolman and arresting officer Kevin Saragian at the April hearing.

Cypher had told police that Baker had agreed to provide $200 worth of drugs to Cypher and Kennedy but failed to do so.

Lobaugh’s report stated that despite the ruling, Kennedy will have proper time to “develop trial strategy concerning the guilt phase of this case” since “neither jury selection nor trial has been set, and the court has not received any motions to this effect.”

The prosecution is not seeking a joint case with Kennedy and Cypher, said Lobaugh.

The judge has yet to make another ruling that would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Kennedy.

Kennedy is charged with felony counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. He is also charged with misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse, tamper with/fabricate physical evidence, possession of instrument of crime with intent, possession of a weapon and make repairs/sell offensive weapon.

Cypher is charged with felony counts of criminal homicide, conspiracy – criminal homicide, hinder prosecution – conceal/destroy evidence and two counts of aggravated assault, in addition to misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse and tamper with/fabricate physical evidence.