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probation, so her probation was revoked and she was sent to prison in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.
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
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 - SanMarcosRecord.com
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
“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
Walker hopes to repeat that success, and has
launched an online petition
(www.petitiononline.com/jwbs218/petition.html) 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
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
When a bottle of the arsenic poison was found in a
storage locker the bookkeeper had rented, she was arrested and charged
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
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
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
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.
Fashioned Greed - $350,000 life insurance policy and million dollar
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.
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.