Former SC dispatcher, law enforcement officer sentenced to life in prison for murder of wife

Updated: Nov. 5, 2019 at 6:56 PM EST
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LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - Former Chester County dispatcher and law enforcement officer James Baldwin has been found guilty of the 2016 murder of his wife Judy Orr Baldwin.

Judge Dan Hall sentenced James Baldwin to life in prison.

The guilty verdict and life sentence came as a result of a week-long trial nearly three years after investigators first accused Baldwin of killing his wife and then staging a car accident to conceal her death.

According to WBTV reporter Mary King, there were gasps and tears heard in the courtroom from the family of Judy Baldwin as the verdict of “guilty” was read in the James Baldwin murder trial.

Judy Orr Baldwin’s son, Chris Orr, tearfully asked the judge to give Jamie Baldwin the maximum sentence.

“I have six kids that will never get to see my mama again,” Orr said.

Judge Hall asked Baldwin if he wanted to say anything.

“Sir this whole thing, from Judy’s sister, brother, her sons, her grandkids- I mean I don’t know what to say.” Baldwin stood before the court and said. “She fell from a ladder, I’m telling you. I was trying to get her to the hospital. I loved my wife probably more than anybody in this room, we had a great relationship. I just - I don’t know right now.”

After his statement, Judge Hall formally delivered Baldwin’s sentence. Baldwin’s defense attorneys told WBTV outside of the courtroom that they plan to file an appeal.

“Obviously my client’s very disappointed,” said attorney Philip Jamieson. “We didn’t think the state proved their case-- we still don’t think that. But the juries rule. We’ll file an appeal and follow the process.”

Judy’s sons also spoke together to WBTV outside the courthouse about the verdict.

“Now we can go put a marker on her grave- that he never done,” said Chris Orr. “We can start mourning.”

Chris’ brother Josh added, “Talk about her and not have to bring his name up. We can talk about the good times- I mean all the grand kids. It’s sad that she’s not going to be able to be a part of two little grand babies.”

“Jamie Baldwin is dead to me, so I can move on with my mom and forget about him- he’s done,” said Chris.

Baldwin’s family said they did not want to provide a statement.

When the defense formally rested its case Monday, Baldwin told the judge he would not testify. However, the defense used Monday to call its witnesses, including two forensic experts whose testimony contradicted previous witness testimony.

The first expert, a forensic consultant named Ross Gardner, testified about blood stains found inside the Baldwin home and at the alleged crash scene.

At one point during his two hours of testimony, Gardner noted the lack of crime scene investigation early on as problematic for his testimony.

“The simple fact of the matter is the crime scene effort was, and there’s no nice way to say it, it was trash,” said Gardner. “There’s a basic rule in crime scenes - you treat every unintended death as a homicide. Things were never picked up, things were not collected. At this point the questions you would like to have answered, which these people deserve to have answered, cannot be answered. So yeah, we’re all in the same boat unfortunately,” said Gardner.

Gardner talked through pictures from inside the Baldwin home the night of the incident and ultimately said he couldn’t conclude whether it was an accident or violence that caused Judy Baldwin’s injuries in the living room based on the stains.

Opening statements painted a picture that this trial will center largely on the details of what...
Opening statements painted a picture that this trial will center largely on the details of what happened the night that Judy Orr Baldwin died(Provided by family)

He did say he believes Judy was injured, either accidentally or intentionally, by the broken stocking hanger that’s been brought up in previous testimony. Gardner added he believes the ladder seen leaning against the fireplace mantel near the Christmas tree was placed there some time after the incident because there was blood found underneath the ladder.

But he also said based on blood stains found in the Baldwins’ Jeep, he believes Judy was conscious on the way to the hospital. He testified the stains indicated her head was stationary or controlled during the trip which he said would not be the case if someone was unconscious. He also testified he thought Judy was conscious and got out of the Jeep at some point after the alleged crash as blood stains were found on the outside front of the Jeep, and he believes that would be hard to stage.

“The only way you get that blood - and that’s blood flow - is you’re going to have to lift her body up and provide blood flow, gravity’s going to have to get of it,” said Gardner. “So if he’s out there lifting her up over her shoulder and holding her up against the surface so that blood will flow across, yeah I’m with you, but know unless you got that, she was bleeding against that surface,” said Gardner.

His testimony that Judy would have been conscious contradicted the testimony of the forensic pathologist who performed Judy’s second autopsy. Dr. Janice Ross testified last week that with the type of injuries Judy sustained, she would have been unconscious in 30 seconds to a minute and a half. Dr. Ross also testified that Judy’s injuries were consistent with that of a beating, although she ultimately could not rule out it was accidental.

Gardner said in his testimony that he couldn’t explain the wounds, and that he would have to rely on a medical examiner.

On Monday, the defense brought in its own forensic pathologist to testify about Judy’s injuries. Dr. Thomas Beaver, an associate professor at MUSC, testified that he reviewed the reports and photos connected to Judy Baldwin’s death, and he believes based on Judy’s two autopsies he would have ruled her death as accidental.

“I’m presented with a set a facts and a scenario and the facts and the scenario match up pretty well, and then I do my autopsy, and I put the autopsy findings together with the scenario and the facts on the scene,” said Beaver. “I would say this is somebody who fell off a ladder and hit their head.”

For the last week, the state has worked to show jurors why they believe Judy Baldwin would not have been on the step-ladder.

Highway Patrol troopers and other investigators have also testified in the last week that Baldwin’s recounting of the events and evidence at the scene of the alleged accident don’t add up.

The state has had family and friends testify the Baldwins’ marriage was rocky and that Jamie was allegedly having an affair.

The state has maintained they believe Jamie Baldwin attacked Judy at their Chester home and to cover up her death, he staged the alleged accident.

Baldwin and his defense have maintained Judy fell off a step ladder while decorating the Christmas tree and was on her way to the hospital with Jamie when they were in the alleged car accident. Jamie claims he went unconscious, and Judy somehow ended up outside the vehicle.

In cross-examination about his determination that Judy’s death was accidental, the state asked Dr. Beaver if he could rule out violence.

“There’s nothing specific about the injury that tells you if it was a fall or a blow,” said Dr. Beaver. “The only thing we have to provide any guidance at all is that it’s a hatband distribution. So yes, your hypothetical- ‘Could it be from a blow?’ Yes. ‘Could it be from a fall?’ Yes.”

The “hatband distribution” relates to the location of Judy’s head injury, according to Dr. Beaver. He told the jury that typically with a fall, that’s where an injury to the head happens, the same place a hatband would fall. But he added, ultimately, that could not prove a fall.

Dr. Beaver said he couldn’t give a specific timeline to which someone with injuries like Judy’s would die like Dr. Ross did. He said he believed it could be anywhere from zero minutes to four hours.

Dr. Beaver also said he didn’t believe the scene inside the Baldwin home had been altered based on the photographs provided by the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, and that he “would disagree” with anyone who thought that. That statement was in conflict with Mr. Gardner’s testimony that he believed the ladder was placed at the scene after the incident.

The state and the defense both gave closing arguments Tuesday morning before the judge charged the jury and they were sent to deliberate.

After the verdict Tuesday was announced, Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively spoke to WBTV.

“Just such a relief for this family,” said Lively. “They’ve waited almost three years now to the date to get justice for Judy and its just really an honor to be a part of it.”

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