Accuracy in Media

The Sugar Land, Texas police have finally disclosed the evidence that they say proves that Cliff Baxter, the former Enron vice chairman, killed himself in the wee hours of the morning of January 25. They assert that there was never any credible evidence to support any other conclusion. One of the ten items of evidence they listed was that drugs found in his body were consistent with a prescription that he had just had filled on January 23. One of those drugs, Ambien, is a sleeping tablet that has hypnotic effects. The instructions were to take one 10 mg. tablet and go to bed immediately. Baxter presumably took one on the 23rd and one on the 24th, but the police found that five were missing from the bottle on the 25th.

Those who don’t go to bed right after taking Ambien may experience a hypnotic trance, making them easily controlled by others. If Baxter was in such a state, he could have been given three more Ambien tablets, making it impossible for him to drive a car. That would pull the rug from under the suicide scenario.

The police say Baxter’s DNA was on the flap of the sealed envelope in which the suicide note was found. But if he was drugged with Ambien, those controlling him could have smeared his saliva on the flap, creating what would be viewed as conclusive proof of suicide. Ambien could also explain how he might have been maneuvered into assisting in his own murder. The police say the gunshot residue indicates that Baxter fired the gun, but it indicates only that his hands were near the gun when it was fired or in contact with it after. If he fired the gun it is so unlikely that both hands and the gun would fall onto his lap that it should have been seen as an effort to disguise a murder.

The police say that about two minutes elapsed after a constable “spotted Baxter driving alone in his car” to when the time the constable discovered him in his car with “a single gunshot wound to the head with his hands lying in his lap holding a handgun.” That comes close to making the constable virtually an eyewitness to the shooting, but it is not what the police told reporters on Jan. 25. According to the Houston Chronicle, they said that the constable first noticed the car on a routine patrol and checked it out when he saw it parked in the same place about 15 minutes later. He saw the body with a head wound. That account didn’t say how long the car had been there, when the shot was fired or who fired it.

The police say there are “indications” that Baxter wrote the suicide note, but they don’t say what they are. The expert at the Department of Public Safety who compared it with known samples of Baxter’s handwriting did not conclude that he wrote it. It was printed entirely in block letters, and she told me that “block letters don’t have a lot of individuality.” If he wrote it, his fingerprints should be on it. Apparently they were not. That is evidence that he did not write it.

Mrs. Baxter’s intense but unsuccessful effort to keep the note from being made public generated suspicion that she knew it was forged. She signed an affidavit saying that it “consisted entirely of intimate, personal information pertaining to family relationships” and should not be made public. That was false. There had to be another reason why she didn’t want it to be seen. A friend of Baxter’s who had received letters from him for many years said that Baxter always wrote to him in longhand. He could not believe that Baxter printed the note.

The police say they have proof that the gun belonged to him and that it was the weapon that fired the shot that killed him. But that does not prove that Baxter fired it. The stumbling block for the police is the quantity of the Ambien found in his blood. The toxicology report gave the quantity of a pain killer he had taken, but it did not give the quantity of the most important drug?Ambien. The medical examiner’s toxicology group probably calculated the quantity but dropped it from the report to avoid embarrassing their boss, Dr. Joye Carter, who had hastily declared the death a suicide. Her bosses, the Harris County commissioners, haven’t responded to requests that they order Dr. Carter to release the figures. Apparently they don’t want to embarrass her or the police.




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