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Debra Lynn BAKER





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 12, 1990
Date of birth: August 5, 1956
Victim profile: Jerry Sternadel (her millonaire boss)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Clay County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to 10 years probation on June 30, 1993. The probation was revoked on December 1, 2003

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Debra Lynn Baker was convicted of Jerry Sternadel’s murder and received 10 years probation and a $10,000. That was in 1994. However, she continued to break the terms of her probation, so her probation was revoked and she was sent to prison in 2002 for 10 years.


Debra Lynn Baker: By most accounts, Debra Baker had the perfect job. She was the bookkeeper and business manager of Jerry Sternadel, a millionaire Texan entrepreneur. She was also a close confidant of Sternadel's wife, Lou Ann. They were so close that many, including Lou Ann's husband, began to suspect that the pair were more than just friends.

In 1990, Jerry fell deathly ill. As he lay in his hospital bed, he told anyone who would listen that he thought Debra and Lou Ann had poisoned him. He died shortly afterward.

A follow-up autopsy revealed that Jerry had ingested a lethal dose of arsenic. When a trace of the poison was found in a storage shed rented to Debra, she was immediately arrested and charged with Jerry's murder.

At trial, prosecutors painted a picture not of a love triangle, but of a hate triangle. Jerry hated his wife and wanted to divorce her. Debra hated her boss. And Lou Ann hated the thought of losing her lavish lifestyle. Prosecutors argued that Debra had poisoned Jerry before he could divorce her beloved friend, Lou Ann.

Based on the evidence of the arsenic found in Debra's storage shed, the jury found her guilty of murder. But in a surprising legal twist, the same jury that had convicted her sentenced her to only 10-years probation and fined her $10,000.

In 2003, Debra Baker was arrested for parole violations. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.


Probation: Murder case fears return

By Anita Miller -

February 23, 2008

San Marcos — As horrifying as his death by arsenic was, the sentence given the woman convicted of murdering Wichita Falls resident Jerry Sternadel was, many felt, equally horrendous. Debra Lynn Baker got 10 years probation and a fine in the 1990 slaying that has since been profiled on television.

Now, says the ex-wife of the man she killed, Debra Lynn Baker is about to come up for parole and if that’s granted, intends to move to the San Marcos area.

Baker, 51, is currently incarcerated by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles but parties to the case, including Jeannie Walker, the ex-wife, were notified earlier this month that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is reviewing the case as required under state law. Walker doesn’t expect the board to make a determination until June.

Baker, whose case was profiled in October 2004 on the Oxygen Channel, was a bookkeeper for Sternadel at the time he was poisoned. Prior to his death, Walker said Sternadel had confronted Baker about money missing from his bank accounts.

“He told me there was over $100,000 that he found real quick. He said he wanted the money back or I’m going to have her arrested for embezzlement.”

Walker said Sternadel felt Baker was acting in collusion with his then-wife Lou Ann Sternadel and, despite the fact she was never charged, jurors in the murder case must have believed it too.

“I talked to jurors about why they would give her probation. They said they felt she was the scapegoat, that the widow was the one who had committed the crime.”

However, the murder case didn’t go to trial until 1994, and before that, Baker and her husband moved to Hays County. Baker got a job as a bookkeeper with a Wimberley rancher, and in 1993 she was indicted by a Hays County Grand Jury for forging his name on two checks totaling $3,200.

That case didn’t go to trial until after Baker had been given probation on the murder charge and Walker said the judge in the case indicated that because she’d gotten probation for murder, he couldn’t give her any more for forgery.

“So she’s under 10 years probation in two different counties,” Walker said.

In 1999, Baker again found herself in the local criminal justice system but was given deferred adjudication on a hot check charge. That was a violation of her probation and the reason she wound up in prison, Walker said.

Baker was arrested in 2003 and entered prison Dec. 1 of that year. When she was initially considered for parole, Walker and others mounted a successful letter-writing campaign and the board listened.

Walker hopes to repeat that success, and has launched an online petition ( she hopes will sway the board once again.

Hays County Assistant Prosecutor Fred Webber said because the murder conviction was in Clay County, local authorities would not normally be notified of her impending parole hearing.

“If she got sent to prison based on probation up there we would not get notified,” he said.

Baker’s projected release date, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is June 24, 2013.


Justice for Jerry Sternadel

We are asking the Governor of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to fully investigate the 1990 arsenic murder of Jerry Sternadel.

In 1990, Jerry Sternadel fell seriously ill from high lethal levels of arsenic. The arsenic poison was given to him over a long period of time. As he was wheeled into the emergency room on his third trip to the hospital, he told the attendants he thought his bookkeeper and wife were trying to kill him. He told anyone who would listen in the hospital that his bookkeeper and wife had stolen money from him and were now killing him. He died in the hospital several days later.

An autopsy revealed he had ingested extremely high lethal levels of arsenic. His death certificate affirmed that Jerry was given arsenic over a period of time until lethal levels finally killed him.

When a bottle of the arsenic poison was found in a storage locker the bookkeeper had rented, she was arrested and charged with murder.

At the 1994 trial, the prosecutor painted a picture of a hate triangle and a love triangle. Jerry hated his wife and wanted to divorce her. The bookkeeper hated her boss, but loved his money. Jerry's wife loved her lavish lifestyle and hated the thought of losing it.

The prosecution’s theory was that the bookkeeper helped to kill Jerry so he wouldn’t divorce his wife and so he couldn’t have the bookkeeper arrested for embezzlement.

During the many hours of testimony at the murder trial of the bookkeeper, one person remained conspicuous by her absence. The wife of the man who was murdered, was nowhere to be seen at the trial. The widow did not attend one day of the murder trial.

The prosecutor was obvious in his theory that the wife and bookkeeper were confederates in a conspiracy to murder Jerry Sternadel for his money. The jury found the bookkeeper guilty, but, perhaps because of the widow’s absence, perhaps because of a shaky motive, perhaps because the wife and bookkeeper should both be on trial.

The jury sentenced the bookkeeper to 10 years probation and fined her $10,000. Even though the jury showed mercy to the bookkeeper, she did not appreciate their leniency. For eight years, she broke the rules of her probation and scoffed at the criminal justice system. In 2002, the prosecutor had her probation for murder revoked. The bookkeeper exhausted many appeals in her effort to stay out of prison. But in 2003, she was sent to prison for the murder of Jerry Sternadel.

There is still a mystery surrounding the murder. Despite her husband’s dying declaration testimony and the obvious motive, the wife was never charged or brought to trial.

Surely the bookkeeper being sent to prison will not mark the end of efforts to unravel the mystery of the arsenic murder of Jerry Sternadel.

There is no time limit on murder. We are asking the Governor of Texas and the rightful state authorities to consider any and all means to further this case and bring justice to a 49 year old man who died slowly and suffered severe pain and in a horrible fashion from the arsenic poison fed to him by the people who pretended to be his caregivers. The motive was "old-fashioned greed".

We are asking for justice and closure for the family and friends of Jerry Sternadel.



Millionaire poisoned to death in the prime of life

Story on Television: The arsenic murder of Jerry Sternadel and murder trial of his bookkeeper, Debra Lynn Baker, was aired on SNAPPED in 2005 and CURRENT AFFAIR in 1995.


Jerry Sternadel, a Texas millionaire rancher, discovered his wife and bookkeeper had stolen thousands of dollars from him. A few weeks after he demanded the money back, he ate lunch with his wife and bookkeeper, as he often did, and suddenly became deathly ill. While in the hospital, doctors were mystified as to how an otherwise healthy, energetic man could become so deathly ill. The dying man told everyone within earshot that his wife and bookkeeper were killing him. His wife, Lou Ann, said her husband was hallucinating from drugs the doctors were giving him. Lou Ann pretended to be a caring wife, as she and her close friend, Debra Baker, allegedly continued feeding her husband food and drink laced with arsenic poison.

The millionaire knew he was dying, and knew who was killing him. He begged for his life when he was in the hospital, "Please help me! Cut me loose! I don't want to die! Those two women are killing me!" He valiantly fought for his life while strapped down to his hospital bed with restraints on his hands and feet and tubes in every orifice.

After Jerry Sternadel died, strapped down to his hospital bed, an anonymous caller tipped off the police about a $350,000 life insurance policy the widow stood to gain from the millionaire's death.

The Death Certificate read: Patient was given arsenic over a period of time until lethal amounts finally killed him.

The murder began a horrific fight with the devil for the millionaire's ex-wife, Jeannie Walker, as she pursued justice for her ex-husband and their two children. 

MOTIVE: Old Fashioned Greed - $350,000 life insurance policy and million dollar estate.

At the murder trial for Jerry Sternadel's bookkeeper, Debra Baker, the prosecutor painted a picture not of a love triangle, but of a hate triangle. Jerry Sternadel hated his wife and wanted to divorce her. Debra Baker hated her boss. Lou Ann Sternadel hated the thought of losing her lavish lifestyle. The prosecutor's theory was that Debra Baker killed Jerry Sternadel so he would not divorce Lou Ann. It was a shaky motive to be sure, but it was hard for the jury to get around the fact that arsenic was found in a storage shed rented by Debra Baker. The Clay County jury weighed the evidence and found Debra Baker guilty of First Degree Murder. But, apparently, members of the jury felt the widow had made Debra Baker a scapegoat in the arsenic murder. They surprised everyone when they sentenced the convicted killer to Ten Years Probation with a $10,000 fine. The district attorney and others said the sentence Debra Baker received was a "Travesty of Justice".

Dying Declaration: "Those two women stole $35,000 from me. They're trying to kill me!"

Despite her husband's dying testimony against her and the obvious motive, the widow, Lou Ann Sternadel, has not been arrested or tried for his murder.

"Fighting the Devil" was twenty years in the making. The 336 page book is loaded with 49 photographs.

The True Crime Story is dedicated to the sheriff who diligently pursued the case until his untimely death from lung cancer, the late and great Jake Bogard.



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