Accuracy in Media

There is something very strange about the behavior of Cliff Baxter, the former vice chairman of Enron, and his wife, Carol. Cliff Baxter was found shot to death at 2:27 a.m. on January 25. He was in his Mercedes, parked in a median turn-around on a street a few blocks from his home in Sugar Land, an upscale suburb of Houston. He had not been there very long. He was barefoot and was wearing nothing but a T-shirt and workout pants. He had been shot in the right side of his head with a .38 revolver loaded with “rat shot,”tiny pellets used to kill rodents, snakes and birds. Dr. Joye Carter, the Harris County chief medical examiner, said in her autopsy report that the wound was self-inflicted. The Sugar Land police confirmed her finding when they recently closed the case.

Here are some facts that raise questions about that finding. (1) He was in the process of trading in his 72-foot yacht for a new 80-footer. (2) He had a prescription for 30 Ambien tablets, a hypnotic sleeping medicine, filled two days earlier, and he had apparently taken five of them despite instructions to take only one 10-milligram tablet and go to bed immediately. (3) Even though he had taken possibly four times the prescribed dose on the night of Jan. 24, the suicide scenario is that he got out of bed, donned a T-shirt and workout pants, grabbed a .38 revolver loaded with rat shot, drove a few blocks, parked in the middle of the street and shot himself in the head, dropping both of his hands and the gun onto his lap. (4) A note was found hand-printed in block letters in his wife’s car that read: “Carol, I am so sorry for this. I feel I just can’t go on. I have always tried to do the right thing but where there was once great pride now its (sic) gone. I love you and the children so much. I just can’t be any good to you or myself. The pain is overwhelming. Please try to forgive me. Cliff.”

The overdose of Ambien, which wasn’t life-threatening, deserves more attention than it got. The toxicology report issued by the medical examiner’s office shows that Ambien was present in both his stomach and blood, but the quantity was missing. We have requested the numbers, but they have been slow to provide them. A patient taking Ambien can remain awake and be controlled by others, as if hypnotized. The toxicology report was not available when the medical examiner concluded that Baxter committed suicide. Had she known about the Ambien, she might have seen that an unknown person or persons may have given him an overdose and taken control of his actions that night. It is possible that he shot himself or did not resist being shot because he was in a hypnotic trance and was doing what he was told to do. This possibility has not been raised by the medical examiner or the police or the news media.

Cliff Baxter is not the only member of the family to exhibit strange behavior. Mrs. Baxter has also done some odd things. The best known was her costly effort to keep the public from seeing the suicide note. She hired a big law firm to try to get the Texas attorney general to reject a freedom of information request for copies of the suicide note and the police report. Her attorneys argued that both contained “intimate, personal family facts” that should not be made public. When the attorney general ordered them released, Mrs. Baxter’s lawyers got a temporary restraining order, but by then copies of the note had already been given to reporters.

The note did not contain a single “intimate, personal family fact.” If Mrs. Baxter was sure that the suicide note was authentic, she would have been better advised to prove it by releasing it along with other notes written by her husband. In the Vincent Foster case, the White House released the text but not copies of a note supposedly written by Foster. The text helped convince people that Foster was depressed, but when copies of the handwriting were eventually leaked, independent experts compared it with Foster’s and declared the note to be a forgery. If Mrs. Baxter’s efforts to block release of the police report don’t succeed, known samples of Baxter’s handwriting should become available, making comparisons with the note possible.

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