TAMPA, FLORIDA — On Thursday, a Tampa jury decided that Matthew Terry should spend life in prison for the brutal murder of Kay Baker – Terry’s girlfriend and an elementary school teacher.
After Matthew Terry was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder on Tuesday, the jury was called back for the sentencing phase. After nearly an hour of deliberation, the jury declined to impose the death penalty.
STABBED TO DEATH
Kay Baker was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Terry, on May 28. Police found Baker just after midnight in her neighbor’s yard with her throat slit open. Terry was apprehended nearby with blood all over his body.
During the penalty phase, jurors learned that Kay Baker loved children. Her first job was at a daycare. She studied elementary education in college before becoming an elementary teacher.
PRIOR CONVICTION FOR STABBING
Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella handed down a life sentence in prison without parole, the only option available to the judge. During sentencing, Judge Sabella mentioned Terry’s prior conviction in Michigan, where he stabbed and nearly killed another woman.
“I don’t know what happened in Michigan as far as the trial and the sentence,” said Judge Sabella. “But based on what I heard, I believe you should have been in prison in Michigan and that Miss Baker should still be alive. This is Florida, and you're going to prison for the rest of your life.”
SOUGHT DEATH PENALTY
Acting Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez – who replaced Andrew Warren after Governor DeSantis removed him from office – sought the death penalty in the case. Warren previously stated that he would not seek the death penalty, despite the heinous crime.
Lopez and her team worked to convince jurors that Baker’s murder was so cruel that her killer deserved to be executed under Florida’s capital punishment laws. Terry’s prior conviction was a significant factor in the prosecutors’ death penalty request.
In his closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Justin Diaz said, “Kay Baker suffered. She was tortured.” But Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane told the jury that a life sentence is not unjust. “It is not. It is perfectly just. And you are in no way forgiving him for anything by imposing a life sentence,” said Kane.
“We thank the jury for their service. We respect their decision and ask that the community do the same,” said Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez in a press release. “The question of whether the defendant should receive the death penalty should be left for a jury’s recommendation,” she added.
Lopez further said that in the worst cases, such as this one, “I will not take that decision away from a jury. I will follow the law,” alluding to Warren, who said he would not give a jury that option to consider.
“This case was never about the defendant. It was about honoring Kay Baker and her loving family,” said Lopez. “Kay’s family and friends have shown amazing grace and courage throughout this difficult process. Today is the conclusion of this case, but we must always remember the wonderful Kay Baker, the lives she changed, and her legacy of service and kindness.”