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Florida Man Faces Possible Death Penalty In Murder Of His Teacher Girlfriend

A new prosecutor in Tampa, Florida has reversed a previous decision not to seek the death penalty against Matthew Robertson, who is charged with killing his girlfriend, elementary school teacher Kay Baker.

By Dorian Geiger
A police handout of Matthew Terry

A newly appointed Florida prosecutor will pursue the death penalty against a man who allegedly fatally stabbed an elementary teacher, reversing an earlier decision by the area's now-suspended state attorney.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Susan S. Lopez announced on Monday that prosecutors will seek capital punishment in the approaching trial of Matthew Robertson Terry. 

Terry is accused of breaking into the home of his then-43-year-old girlfriend, Kay Baker, in late May and stabbing her to death outside the property as she attempted to flee him. 

“Every capital murder case must be evaluated on its own facts to determine if a reasonable jury made up of Hillsborough County citizens could unanimously sentence a defendant to death,” Lopez said in a statement on Aug. 8. “Defendant Mathew Terry’s actions were especially heinous, cruel, and atrocious.” 

In her decision, Lopez cited Terry’s past criminal history, including a prior assault conviction for stabbing a Michigan woman several times in 2017.

“He was merciless in his brutal killing of Ms. Baker, and given his history of violent behavior, we will ask a jury to sentence him to death,” she added

A neighbor found Baker, her throat slashed and gasping for breath, in his backyard at around 12:30 a.m. on May 28, according to a probable cause statement obtained by Oxygen.com. Baker, who was pronounced dead after authorities arrived on-scene, also suffered multiple stab wounds to her shoulder, and neck. Detectives later concluded Baker’s assailant had likely tried to decapitate her unsuccessfully due to how “deep and large” the cut on her neck was.

After searching Baker’s home, authorities discovered signs of forced entry and a single kitchen knife missing from the home’s butcher block.

Detectives located Terry lying face down in a wooded area behind Baker’s home, after tracing a blood trail to a patch of brush from where Baker was stabbed. The 47-year-old was wearing only underwear and a t-shirt that were both soaked in blood, according to case court documents.

Police alleged in the charging documents that he’d stabbed himself twice in the neck while hiding in the bush, and had also sustained multiple cuts to his fingers and hands.

According to witnesses, the couple had clashed as they were leaving  a local bar shortly before midnight. 

“I saw you dancing with that guy,” Terry allegedly told Baker as they left Landing Bar and Grill 11:30 p.m. on May 27, court documents stated.

Authorities suspect Terry fatally stabbed his girlfriend after they arrived home from the restaurant.

“It appears the victim may have fled out of a window within a locked bedroom and fled to the area…where the defendant made contact with [the victim], stabbed [her] multiple times and appeared to attempt to sever [her] head,” the probable cause statement alleged.

A Michigan jury in 2017 had convicted Terry of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm, after he stabbed an ex-girlfriend several times, according to the Lansing State Journal. He was released after three years.

Baker taught at Cypress Creek Elementary in Ruskin, Florida, according to her obituary. She was a third grade science and math teacher.

The move to seek the death penalty against Terry is one of Lopez’s first acts since taking office after Gov. Rick DeSantis appointed her on Aug. 4. That's when he announced that he was suspending Lopez’s predecessor, Andrew Warren, for his statements that he would not prosecute violations of Florida’s 15-week abortion or transgender health care bans.

Warren’s office had previously declined to pursue the death penalty against Terry based on the wishes of Baker’s family, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“We’re not really people who are hugely in favor of the death penalty,” Baker’s stepmother, Kristine Empey, told the newspaper. “In this case, we were all in agreement that if that was what legal experts wanted to do, we were not opposed to it.”

“We just don’t want him to get out,” Empey added.