Jury finds Cody Baker guilty in Columbia child murder trial

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COLUMBIA - The jury found a Columbia man guilty of second-degree murder for killing his girlfriend's 8-month-old child. The judge read the verdict around 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Cody Baker, 33, killed Anna Steele's daughter, Finley, in Steele's Columbia home in 2014.

The jury began deliberations around 1:30 Friday afternoon as part of the fourth day of the murder trial. Closing arguments began about an hour earlier Friday, starting with Prosecutor Dan Knight.

Knight told the jury, "The truth is on our side ladies and gentlemen."

"He did it. He killed her," Knight said, referring to Baker.

Knight pointed at Baker and called him a killer multiple times. He called Baker angry, frustrated and aggressive and said he didn't know how to spell Finley's name or when her birthday was. He said Baker admitted he was the last person who was with Finley before she was found dead.

The defense's closing argument centered around Anna Steele, repeating over and over Baker has nothing to hide and is innocent.

Defense attorney Jeffery Hilbrenner told the jury text messages prove Steele was awake when she said she was asleep. He said a text message from her mother was sent the day before Finley died encouraging her to breastfeed.

The defense argued, "Anna Steele did not intend to kill Finley, Anna Steele did not intend to hurt Finley, Anna Steele reacted," resulting in the infant's death hours later. The defense said Finley was sick, fussy and cranky, and Steele yanked Finley's chin to try to get Finley to breastfeed. 

Baker's sentencing hearing is schedule for October 19 at 3 p.m.

Knight said Baker deserves life in prison for what he did to Finley Steele.

TRIAL RECAP

Defense starts off the fourth day of the trial

The defense started Friday morning by questioning Columbia police detective Jonathan Voss.

Voss testified about phone records, saying he looked at the data on Steele's cell phone. He said she looked up websites about what to do if your baby is crying all night, and it could be a sign of future behavior problems.

The defense showed records indicating Steele's mother text messaged her at 11:01 p.m. on Feb. 27, the day before Finley was found dead. When prosecutors cross-examined the detective, they discussed how the detective interviewed Steele the day Finley was found dead, and he said Steele was polite, in contrast to Baker who was abrupt and visibly upset with the detective.

Following the detective's testimony, a former Boone County Sheriff's Department employee testified. The former employee said Steele's mother, Tracey, came to visit Steele in jail to have her sign a document for the cremation of Finley's body. The former employeed said she noticed Steele was smiling and laughing with her attorney during the process.

During cross-examination, prosecutors showed a letter Steele wrote to "Aunt Beth," which said "I hope it didn't hurt her to be cremated." They also played an audio recording from jail of Steele speaking to someone about the cremation, saying the same words. 

Court documents said Steele found the child was not breathing and called 911. An autopsy later revealed Finley had evidence of "massive" blunt force trauma and being shaken.

Baker, Steele testify Thursday 

Thursday afternoon featured the defense's first witness with testimony from Steele. She testified she saw Baker give Finley CPR.

Steele's statement to police said since Baker moved in with her earlier in 2014, she noticed Baker being abusive to the child. The prosecution claimed Steele was asleep the night that Finley died.

Even though Steele thought she let her daughter down, she claimed repeatedly she would never directly harm her child.

However, Steele said she is partially responsible for her daughter's death because she allowed Baker around the child, even though there were suspicious events after he moved in. These included a rug burn on the back of Finley's head, a bruise on the baby's arm and a bruise across the bridge of her nose. Steele testified Baker would place a pillow around the baby's head in the crib, and then place a blanket or several blankets over the pillow covering the baby's head and body. She did not say why he did this.

The defense tried to present alternative reasons for the injuries, but prosecutors got Steele to say no injuries occurred to the baby before Baker moved in.

Steele called Baker manipulative and said he did not support her at all financially. 

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors called Baker to the stand. His testimony lasted several hours.

Baker testified he met Steele while the pair worked at Glenn's Cafe. He said he then moved into Steele's Columbia home. The defense showed the jury a floor plan and photos of the rooms in the home's basement. The prosecution said Baker manipulated Steele into thinking he loved her. On the stand, Baker admitted he entertained the idea of dating other people.

The prosecution also said Baker focused on himself when talking to police during the investigation. Prosecutors said Baker kept telling police "that was the most difficult time of my life" and "you don't know how much I went through."

The prosecution also said Baker mentioned Steele felt "couped up" staying with Finley. The prosecutor asked if Baker was trying to say Steele killed Finley, and Baker said he's trying to say no one killed her.

The St. Louis County Medical Examiner Mary Case also took the stand Thursday morning to explain the severity of the wounds found on Finley's body. She said the child suffered significant bruising on her chin and face. Case began her expert testimony Wednesday.

Case described injuries to Finley's head as "very significant" and said she suffered a large-area skull fracture from impact. Case said Wednesday abusive head trauma in a young child usually means it was inflicted by someone else, and it usually happens behind closed doors.

Baker's second day in court

Prosecutors began calling witnesses Wednesday. Columbia Police officers Joel Mueller and Lane Nelson confirmed crime scene photos and bloody clothes taken from the scene as evidence. Mueller was the first officer to arrive on at the house back on Feb. 28, 2014. A crime lab expert confirmed the DNA and blood found on the child's clothing.

Columbia Police Department detective Alan Mitchell testified about the interrogation video of Baker. He said Baker was polite and patient during the first interview but grew more and more agitated during the second interview.

Opening statements on Tuesday

After jury selection Tuesday morning, prosecutors said Baker suffered from insomnia, needed sleep and was disgruntled about Finley waking him up.

The defense said Tuesday it planned to reveal holes in the prosecutions story line. The defense team said it has texts exchanged between Steele and her mother, meaning she couldn't be asleep when she claimed to be.

Both Steele and Baker face charges in connection to the baby's death. Prosecutors downgraded charges for Steele in July to abuse or neglect of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. She no longer faces murder charges.

[Editor's note: This story is being continually updated with the latest information available from the courtroom.]

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