published Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Suspect admits shooting in taped statement in Sequatchie County case

DUNLAP, Tenn. — In her videotaped statement to authorities, Susan L. Baker described shooting Clifford Carden Jr. to death in his car in the Cartwright Gulf area of southern Sequatchie County, Tenn.

"He [Carden] grabbed me and he was cussing me," Baker told sheriff's detective Jody Lockhart and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Mark Wilson the night she was arrested.

"I snapped. I'd had it," she told them of the afternoon of Feb. 2, 2011, as she, Carden and her co-defendant in the case drove along a gravel road.

Baker, 35 when arrested, is charged along with Bryan Bettis with felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and setting fire to personal property. Bettis' case has been separated from Baker's and he will face court later.

"I didn't even know if it [the gun] was off safety or not. I didn't look at him. I didn't hear glass break or nothing," Baker said, dissolving in tears on the video.

The gun just "popped," Baker said. She said she didn't look as she fired the 9 mm pistol she pulled from her jacket pocket. The gun was Carden's, purchased by his wife, according to testimony.

Baker said she and Bettis pushed Carden's body over to the passenger side of the car and Baker drove, directed by Bettis, to Pickett's Bridge over the Sequatchie River on Frank Tate Road. She put a jacket over the driver's seat to shield her from the blood.

There the pair dragged Carden's body from the car, his feet tangling in the seat belt, then down the bank under the bridge where, she said, Bettis put the body into the river.

From there the pair drove to a remote location north of town to set the car on fire, got a ride from there to Walmart, spending almost $400 they took from Carden's car, then paid cash for a room at the Mountain Inn Suites motel in Dunlap, Tenn. They'd taken $1,005 that Carden, who was disabled, collected from selling his pain medications, according to the video.

In the next day or so, the pair went to Carden's home to "see if there was anything of value" but wound up throwing some stuff in a trash bin where police found it later. Baker said they got a key to the house from Carden's key ring for the car.

Defense lawyer Sam Hudson targeted Baker's confusion during questioning and pointed to her unsteadiness at times as a sign of possible intoxication. She forgot who the TBI agent was and at one point asked him if he was a lawyer, the video showed.

Baker also had little recollection of the days leading up to the day of the shooting and vehemently denied knowledge of the $1,005 until after they had disposed of Carden's body. Hudson said she was not planning a robbery despite her admission on the tape. She didn't know what day it was during the questioning.

After the state rested, Hudson called psychologist Dr. Robert W. Brown Jr., who spent more than 30 hours evaluating Baker over several months.

Brown testified that Baker has a "neuro-cognitive deficit" that impairs her ability to plan or organize and that she had been suffering from hallucinations since she was 3. She also had a history of kidney stones since age 10, and had been prescribed pain medication at an early age.

Brown also said Baker's behavior on the video was uncharacteristic from what he'd seen in the past. He said she was more uninhibited, dramatic and was under the influence of drugs.

The defense will be allowed to begin calling its witnesses today when court reconvenes at 9 a.m. CST.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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