Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Ex-cop - Parricide - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: May 27, 1995
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1942
Victims profile: His wife Valerie Joyce Baughman, 55
Method of murder: Pushed her off the roof of the eight floor Royal Antiguan Hotel
Location: Antigua and Barbuda
Status: Sentenced to death in Antigua. Committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell on May 31, 2000

In the Court of Appeal of Antigua and Barbuda

John Earl Baughman v. The Queen
Judgment of the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Death row inmate hangs self

John Earl Baughman, 57 - convicted of killing his wife

Daily Southtown

Thur June 1, 2000

ANTIGUA - A former Orland Park man on death row in the Caribbean nation of Antigua for his wife's murder hanged himself Tuesday night, a few days after Antigua's top court dismissed his final appeal, officials announced Wednesday.


Orland Park Man Guilty Of Antigua Killing

Baughman Sentenced To Hang For Pushing His Wife Off Roof

By Pamela Cytrynbaum - Chicago Tribune

April 5, 1996

"John Earl Baughman, the jury has found you guilty of murder. You are to be taken from this place to a lawful prison where you will suffer death by hanging. . . ."

With those words, a judge on the Caribbean island of Antigua Thursday brought closure to a bitter chapter in the lives of a Chicago-area family, who once said that they had lost faith in the American justice system.

Baughman's attorney said he would appeal the sentence. But the children of Velerie Joyce Baughman, 55, whom the jury found was pushed to her death from the roof of a resort hotel where the couple were vacationing, said they were relieved to know that their stepfather could be executed for her murder.

"I think now we're free to deal with the loss of our mother," said Victor Des Laurier, 30, a Chicago attorney and the youngest of four children. "We were scared he'd come back. And we've been angry for so long."

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of Antiguans jeered the Orland Park man as six police officers whisked him outside to take him back to prison.

"They yelled out to him, `You deserve to hang!' `You think you could come here and get away with it?' `You deserve to die!' " said Karen Nanton, a reporter for the island's newspaper, The Daily Observer.

Moments before Antiguan High Court Justice Albert Redhead handed down the sentence, a nine-member jury had returned a unanimous guilty verdict after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations.

Other than bowing his head slightly, Baughman, 54, showed no reaction. He made no public statement afterward.

"I grieve over what this has done to our family. The whole thing has just been a horror," said Helen Baughman, 30, one of John Baughman's three daughters.

His lawyer, Gerald Watt, said the verdict and sentence would be appealed on the grounds that the judge's summation to the jury was biased in favor of the prosecution. Watt called the prosecution's case "speculative at best and based more on suspicion than on fact," according to the local newspaper.

The story of Velerie and John Baughman began in Chicago's southwest suburbs, a world away from a tropical island setting.

John Baughman had the appearance of an easy-going bear of a man with a high voice and glasses so thick his co-workers called him "Bottles." He was a police officer before making a career as a salesman for Honeywell.

Velerie was an energetic self-starter who had worked her way up to customer service representative at 3M Co., where she had been employed for 22 years. She was a devoted grandmother who loved to dance and held out cautious hope that she still might find the right man with whom to share the rest of her life.

They met at a singles dance, with oldies music in the background. He had been married once, she had been married twice, and they had seven grown children between them. But the night of the dance, the past was just that.

"I remember my mom telling me about John," said daughter Pam Dekker, 35, of Ft. Wayne, Ind. "She said `He's like a big, sad teddy bear. He's got these big, sad eyes. There's something about him that draws me to him.'"

They were married in February 1991.

But there was a dark side to John Baughman's past that the Antiguan jury did not hear about because the judge ruled it prejudicial. He also had been charged with murder in the death of his first wife, Gertrude, 37, who was strangled and burned.

He was acquitted in 1985 by a Cook County jury after a trial in which he contended, just as he did a decade later in Antigua, that his wife's death was accidental.

And in 1970, Baughman became a suspect in the shooting death of his longtime friend and colleague, Flossmoor Police Sgt. Dean Pence, although a Will County grand jury declined to indict him.

Velerie Baughman had believed her husband's declarations that he was not responsible for those deaths.

But her survivors--the four children, her brothers and sisters, their spouses and children--had no doubt about Baughman's guilt in her death, well before they flew to Antigua for the trial, which began on March 25.

"We were praying for justice," said Dekker. "We believe that John Baughman was arrogant enough to believe he could get away with murder in Antigua."

Prosecutors contended that just after 5 p.m. on May 27, 1995, Baughman took his wife to the roof of the eight-story Royal Antiguan Hotel and pushed her to her death. The 2.48-second, 99-foot fall smashed every bone in her body, according to the testimony of a forensic pathologist.

"My wife and I love each other very, very much," spectators in the courtroom quoted him as saying, as he stood with his back to his wife's relatives.

After the verdict, jurors told the family that John Baughman's story had little credibility, Dekker said.

"The jurors said they couldn't believe this man--who said he loved his wife so much--would just watch her fall, that he made no attempt to grab her leg or save her," Dekker said.


John Earl Baughman Appellant  v.  The Queen Respondent



Delivered the 25th May 2000

On Saturday 27th May 1995, Valerie Baughman, the wife of the appellant, fell some 99 feet to the ground below from the roof of the Royal Antiguan Hotel, Antigua. She was killed outright. She and the appellant were from Illinois USA. They had been married for only four years; she was not his first wife. They had come for a short holiday in Antigua and Barbuda, re-checking into the hotel only two days earlier, and were due to leave again on the 28th May. The police were not satisfied with the explanation which the appellant gave of how his wife came to fall from the roof and he was charged with her murder. The appellant's explanation was that she stumbled and fell over an unguarded parapet about 16" high. The prosecution case was that he pushed her over.

In March and April 1996, the appellant was tried before Redhead J. and a jury. The jury found him guilty of murder. He appealed against his conviction to the Court of Appeal contending that evidence had been improperly admitted and that the summing up was biased and defective. In reserved judgments delivered on 15th September 1997, the Court of Appeal, Bryon C.J., Satrohan Singh J.A. and Matthew J.A., dismissed his appeal. Matthew J.A. held that in some detailed respects the summing up was defective and, by implication, that these deficiencies amounted to a material irregularity; he applied the proviso concluding:-

"Despite the deficiencies in the summing-up to which I have referred above, I am of the view that the Prosecution had made a strong and persuasive case that the Appellant had murdered his wife. I am of the view that had the Jury been properly directed they would inevitably have returned the same verdict of guilty of murder."

The only other reasoned judgment was that of the Chief Justice. Despite the fact that he opened his judgment by stating that he agreed with the conclusion of Matthew J.A. and said that he wished to explain why he held the view that it was an appropriate case to apply the proviso, the thrust of his judgment was that he did not accept that the legitimate criticisms of the summing up amounted to material irregularities in the trial. Having referred to certain features of the evidence given at the trial and the arguments of the appellant, he said, using words which also accurately describe the hearing before their Lordships' Board:-

"In short, I have formed the view that the criticisms of the summing up which were very eloquently and forcefully argued by learned counsel for the Appellant demonstrated no more than minor deficiencies which did not affect the justice of the case."

He concluded:-

"I was satisfied that the Jury had ample evidence to support their verdict. The deficiencies in the summing up which Counsel for the Appellant succeeded in demonstrating were minor and it is inconceivable that a Jury properly directed would have come to any other verdict."

Satrohan Singh J.A. unsurprisingly felt it unnecessary to choose between the two approaches and contented himself with concurring in the dismissal of the appeal. The criticisms did not affect the safety of the conviction.

The appellant has with special leave appealed to their Lordships' Board against the dismissal of his appeal by the Court of Appeal.

The prosecution case at the trial gained only limited support from the physical evidence. The injuries on Mrs. Baughman's body were considerable but did not assist to answer any disputed question. The position where the body was found, a lateral distance of 14 feet out from the side of the building did support the prosecution case. If she had simply fallen without being propelled in some way, how did she come to have landed so far out? The prosecution called a Mr. Lewis, a civil engineer to explain to the jury the mathematics of the speed at which a falling body accelerates towards the ground and the need for the initial application of a measurable horizontal force before the start of the fall to achieve the horizontal displacement. She would only take 2.48 seconds to fall the full distance and the horizontal speed imparted would have to be about 3.8 mph. This made an accidental fall improbable.

One of the grounds of appeal before their Lordships and before the Court of Appeal was that Mr. Lewis should not have been allowed to give this evidence. It was argued that he lacked the necessary expertise and, it seems, that the evidence was in any event irrelevant and inadmissible. This ground of appeal was rightly rejected by the Court of Appeal. The limited evidence which Mr. Lewis gave was clearly within his expertise and went to a question which was relevant and upon which the jury required expert assistance. The jury would need to consider what the significance was of the position where the body fell to the acceptance or rejection of the appellant’s explanation.

A second expert witness, Mr. Workman, was also called at the insistence of the appellant to give evidence on the same point but his evidence merely strengthened that of Mr. Lewis. He confirmed that, if the body had fallen without any lateral impetus being applied, it would have fallen closer to the building and landed on a 9' wide metal platform about 10' above the ground. This platform formed part of a fire escape on the outside of the building bounded by a metal railing. This railing was to feature in a statement made by the appellant from the dock at the trial. He had not mentioned it earlier. In re-examination Mr. Workman said that the requisite lateral force could , implicitly accepting that it could also have been something else.

The prosecution case had to rely upon circumstantial evidence. But this included the evidence of a Mr. Philbert Jackson who had happened to be sitting outside his apartment in sight of the hotel and to have a pair of binoculars with him. His attention was drawn to the hotel when he heard Mrs. Baughman scream. He saw the immediate aftermath of whatever it was caused Mrs. Baughman to fall. He was a very important witness. His credit was attacked; the jury had to decide whether to accept his evidence. The other circumstantial evidence was less powerful and directed more to rebutting the appellant’s explanation and showing that he had lied. The prosecution, as they were entitled to, sought to establish that the appellant had told lies in attempting to persuade the police that the fall was an accident. The prosecution submitted to the jury that he had lied to cover up his guilt. As to his motive, the prosecution case was that he had grown tired of his wife and wished to collect $200,000 insurance on her life.

A notable feature of the trial was that the appellant elected not to give evidence. He chose instead to make an unsworn statement from the dock. The defence case, apart from its attack on the prosecution witnesses, had to be derived from what the appellant said in this statement and had said in interview. The prosecution did not know in advance whether the appellant was going to give evidence at the trial and consequently a number of the witnesses were called by the prosecution primarily to give evidence which would contradict explanations which the appellant had given in interview and could be expected to repeat on oath if he himself gave evidence. The appellant's submissions before the Court of Appeal and their Lordships' Board were largely directed to criticising the probative force of this evidence as if it stood alone and was not essentially rebutting in character.

In order to understand the course of the trial and the significance of the evidence called by the prosecution it is necessary first to summarise the account given by the appellant in interview. He said that his relationship with his wife was warm and loving. They had discovered the staircase which led from the 8th floor of the hotel where their room was to the roof and had on a number of occasions gone up there together in order to enjoy the view. On the morning of the 27th they went to the pool together. After lunch, his wife went back to the pool. She was rather depressed. She had a number of drinks both before and after lunch but he did not because he had a tummy upset. He went off to a shop to buy a newspaper and on impulse bought a pack of greetings cards. He went back to the hotel room and wrote up two of the cards with love messages for his wife. He put one on her pillow and the other in a small plastic bag which he took with him.

Having rejoined her at the pool, the appellant and his wife went back to their room at about 5.00 p.m. She found the card on her pillow. They then went up to the roof.

"We walked up the stairs either side by side or may be I was one step ahead but we were holding hands. When we reached the tile area on the roof we stepped out on the tiles and I think we glanced at the hill to look for the goats. It was a very short time before I pulled the card out of my pocket and I started to hand it to Valerie and she reached for it and I think it hit the side of her hand and it fell. It didn’t fall straight down it kind of fell at an angle may be a foot and a half in front of us and we both started to pick it up and ‘am well’ in order to pick it up you had to take a short step as it was not right at our feet, so as she went forward her foot and either one was slightly on the edge of the other or may be she did not lift her foot up and it did not slide very well. Valerie was wearing slippers. Well her body was going forward and her foot did not go far enough so she lost her balance and she stumbled forward and took a step or two in trying to regain her balance and she just went right off the roof.

Ques. What else happened after that?

Ans. I ran down the stairs and I saw Valerie lying on the ground. She was not moving and her legs looked all broken up. She appeared to be unconscious or dead.

Ques. Before Valerie went off the roof did she say anything?

Ans. When Valerie bent over to take up the card she said honey but she did not say anything else before she went over. When she was in the air going down she screamed.

Ques. In what position was Valerie when she went over?

Ans. She stumbled forward and went over the top.

Ques. In what direction was Valerie facing when she went over the top?

Ans. She was facing the hill with the houses over looking the hotel. She went over at an angle little to the right.

Ques. Where was Valerie standing in relation to the area where she fell when you attempted to give her the card?

Ans. I don’t know. May be about 4ft to 5ft from the edge.

Ques. At the time when you observe Valerie stumbling did you say anything?

Ans. I was picking up the card. We were both picking up the card.

Ques. How far away you were from her when she started stumbling?

Ans. Next to her, side by side, facing the hill where the houses are and she was on my right side.

Ques. What happened to the card which you said drop?

Ans. I had picked it up and I think I dropped it again. I picked it up again before I ran down the stairs."

In his statement from the dock, the appellant added to this account:-

"... as I was coming up, picked up the card, she was falling over the side of the roof. She seemed mid air and she disappeared from my sight because of the wall. I went to the edge of the roof. I don't know how far it was when I saw her going over. I dropped the card again. I saw her falling further and further away. I saw her hit the railing of the fire escape. There was also a second scream before she hit the railing. When she hit the railing, I saw her body flipped. Then she hit the ground."

He had not mentioned seeing the body hit the railing until he made this statement; it was made after the expert evidence had been given about how the body would fall. However it raised fresh difficulties for him. The evidence was that the body would have only taken 21/2 seconds to fall the whole way to the ground yet he was able to get to the edge of the roof in time to see it hit the railing of the platform 101/2 feet above the ground. There was also the evidence of Mr. Philbert Jackson.

Mr. Jackson was called by the prosecution. He had been standing with a pair of binoculars on the front balcony of his house. He had a good view of among other things the hotel on the side from which Mrs. Baughman fell. His attention was drawn to the incident by hearing her scream. Thus he did not see what preceded her fall but he did see what followed. In the statement which he gave to the police the following day, he described seeing someone falling from a height to the ground. Then he looked at the roof of the hotel and saw a man pacing about who then went and looked over the southern side of the roof and then ran down the external steps to where the body was.

Two days later Mr. Jackson amplified his statement giving more detail of what he had seen. He confirmed that when he first saw the woman she was already falling from the roof of the building.

"She was just about the same level with the roof but she was in the air. She was falling backwards with her buttocks pointing down and her feet hunched to the level of her chest. [He described her clothing.] At the time I saw the woman falling, the man was standing on the roof facing the direction in which the woman was falling. I cannot say how far from the edge of the roof he was standing."

At the trial, Mr. Jackson gave similar evidence saying that he saw a woman falling backwards - at the level of the edge of the roof: she looked as though she had just gone over the edge. The judge rightly told the jury: "The evidence of Philbert Jackson is very important". The defence challenged the veracity of his evidence both at the trial and on the appeals. The suggestion was that he had not seen what he claimed and that he had made it up. The damning part of his evidence was that she was falling backwards but it was also inconsistent with the statement of the appellant that he had been at the roof edge in time to see his wife hit the railing. No reason was shown why Mr. Jackson should have lied. It was a matter for the jury and they must have believed him.

Another salient aspect of the evidence was the appellant's story about the card. The prosecution called the shop assistant who had sold the packet to him. This had been on the day before the death of Mrs. Baughman, not the day of her death as the appellant had said. They both came into the shop not just him. She was able to identify the card in question as having come from her shop.

Following the appellant’s initial explanation to the police of what had happened on the roof, the detective looked for the card on the roof. He told the appellant that he could not find it. The appellant then produced it from his pocket still wrapped in its transparent plastic bag. This again raised a question about the appellant's account which counsel was not able to resolve: either he had attempted to give it to his wife without removing it from the bag or else, when he picked it up before leaving the roof, he had put it back in the bag before going down to see what had happened to his wife.

On the Monday 29th May the detective took the appellant to the roof and got him to demonstrate what he said had happened. The place where he indicated that they had been standing was about 6 to 7 feet from the edge and where the card fell was about 4 feet from the edge. The appellant said: "I handed her the love card and it dropped. Both of us went down to pick it up and she stumbled, went forward and fell over the top".

These were the most important parts of the evidence and there can be no criticism of the fair way in which the judge summed them up to the jury. Mr. Watt for the appellant submitted to their Lordships as he did to the Court of Appeal that Mr. Jackson's evidence was so inherently incredible that the judge should have directed the jury to disregard it as a recent invention. This submission was clearly unsound since the substance of Mr. Jackson's evidence at the trial was the same as that he had given in his more detailed witness statement made only three days after the incident.

The other evidence given at the trial was less clear. There was evidence each way concerning whether the body of Mrs. Baughman had hit the railing. Two employees at the hotel gave evidence of hearing a noise which suggested that it had. The detective's examination of the railing could find no physical evidence that it had. The son of Mrs. Baughman by an earlier marriage gave evidence that his mother was frightened of heights and was only a moderate drinker. This evidence cast doubt upon the account which the appellant had given in interview and raised questions about how it was that an excessive quantity of alcohol was found in the blood of Mrs. Baughman after her death. There was also a conflict between the evidence of the son and that of the appellant as to whether the state of the appellant's relations with his wife were as warm as he said they were. In this the appellant had the support of other witnesses including a taxi-driver, Mr. Roberts, who said that they seemed to have a good relationship.

The fact that the appellant had insured his wife's life and stood to gain $200,000 from her accidental death was proved by evidence and not disputed. However it was done through an employee scheme available to the appellant and not without more suspicious, although it did give him an additional motive. Similarly, there can be little doubt that at the trial excessive attention was paid to the question whether the appellant had made a claim on the policy. It was not clear on the evidence that he himself had made the claim as opposed to someone in his employer's organisation. The appellant was under arrest in Antigua. The address used for the claim was not the appellant's home address. But, in any case, given that the policy existed and that the appellant said that the death was accidental, the making of a claim was in itself not suspicious; it is what one would have expected an innocent man to do. It may be thought that the failure to make a claim would be more suspicious.

Another feature which was suspicious but gave rise to no unequivocal inference was the curious story of the changing of the locks at the house where the appellant and his wife lived immediately before they had left for their holiday. (This may have had a connection with the use of a different address in relation to the insurance.) However it seemed clear that the appellant gave a lying explanation of this to her son and to the police. The significance of this aspect of the evidence was that it provided one of a number of instances where there was strong evidence that the appellant had lied giving rise to an inference that he was doing so in order to conceal his guilt.

The case against the appellant at his trial derived from the evidence of Mr. Jackson and the detective. It was supported by the evidence concerning the card and the inference which could properly be drawn from the lies which, on the evidence, the appellant had told. This level of proof was not rebutted by any sworn evidence from the appellant. It was a strong case. The jury were entitled to find the appellant guilty.

The summing up was overall fair. The only sustainable criticisms which can be made of it are minor. They were recognised by the Court of Appeal.

To take the judgment of Matthew J.A. first: he criticised a suggestion by the judge that the jury should ignore the demeanour of the appellant in the dock, the invitation by the judge to consider why, if she was not an excessive drinker, Mrs. Baughman had drunk as much as she did on the day of her death, and the failure of the judge to remind the jury of the evidence of the taxi-driver and the shop girl that the couple seemed to be in love.

Byron C.J. said that he was not convinced that the summing up was unbalanced. On this basis, there would have been no need for him to go on and discuss the application of the proviso. He did not accept that there were any misdirections. He said that the criticisms of the summing up very eloquently and forcefully argued by counsel for the appellant "demonstrated no more than minor deficiencies which did not affect the justice of the case". His actual view was, therefore, that there was no material irregularity.

However, Byron C.J. went on to consider the application of the proviso. He reviewed the evidence in the case. He said: "In fact the only conclusion to draw from the evidence is that the deceased was pushed off the roof by the appellant". "It is inconceivable that a jury properly directed would have come to any other verdict".

Matthew J.A. also reviewed the evidence. Having done so, he too concluded that "had the jury been properly directed they would have inevitably returned the same verdict of murder".

The test which the Court of Appeal applied was a proper one. Byron C.J. and Matthew J.A. took into account the limited deficiencies in the summing up which they considered had been shown to exist and then asked whether, if there had not been these deficiencies, it was certain that the jury would still have arrived at the same conclusion. It cannot be said that the Court of Appeal applied too low a test. On the evidence given at the trial their conclusion was fully justified. The deficiencies in the summing up did not relate to those matters which were the most central to the prosecution case, the evidence of Mr. Jackson and the story of the card. Therefore their Lordships are of the opinion that the Court of Appeal were right to dismiss the appeal and conclude that the deficiencies in the summing-up did not affect the inevitability of the jury’s verdict.

Before their Lordships’ Board, counsel for the appellant subjected the discussion of the evidence in the judgments of the Court of Appeal to a close critical examination. As will already be apparent, their Lordships think that there was force in a number of these criticisms. For example, disproportionate importance appears to have been placed upon the evidence regarding the making of a claim upon the life insurance policy and the changing of the locks. Their Lordships have accordingly felt justified in reconsidering the application of the proviso in this case and, having done so, have come to the conclusion that it was correctly applied.

The substance of what has occurred on this appeal is that the appellant has sought through the eloquence of his counsel to achieve a review of the whole of the evidence given at the trial by their Lordships’ Board as a second tier Court of Appeal. That is not the function of this Board. ( Lee Chun-Chuen v. The Queen, all that he has shown is that there might , in the absence of some new evidence or argument not considered below, to show some error of law or of principle by the Court of Appeal. That has not been shown here. The arguments advanced have simply been a repetition of factual arguments advanced unsuccessfully in the Court of Appeal.

Their Lordships will humbly advise Her Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed.



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