Jury date moved in '09 murder of Winton man

Woman is accused of killing roommate

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comDecember 11, 2012 

— A Feb. 19 jury selection date has been set in the case of a woman accused of murder in the 2009 death of the 84-year-old Winton resident she had been staying with.

Defendant Rachelle Lynn Hampton, 40, appeared in Merced County Superior Court for a brief hearing Tuesday morning in connection with the slaying of Savino Herrera Baiz.

Hampton's case had been scheduled to move forward to jury selection this week. But Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall, the prosecutor in the case, said his office is awaiting the results of DNA tests on the evidence conducted by the Department of Justice.

As a result, Judge Ronald Hansen agreed to move jury selection to February.

Hampton is accused of shooting Baiz after an argument, although it's still unclear what the argument was about. Detectives believe the defendant had been staying with the victim at a residence on Fairlane Avenue when the killing happened.

DNA could play a crucial role in the case. When sheriff's deputies found Baiz's body, there were strands of hair in his clenched hands, according to court documents.

According to court records, when detectives asked Hampton whether she could have killed Baiz, she replied that it was possible.

Interim Public Defender Eric Dumars, Hampton's attorney, has raised questions about his client's sanity at the time of the incident.

She's entered a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. If Hampton is found guilty, a second phase of the trial will determine whether she was sane.

Two doctors have determined Hampton was insane at the time Baiz was killed, Dumars said.

Detectives say that during questioning, Hampton claimed to be a forensic expert for the FBI, and maintained she could "reattach heads" after decapitation.

Dumars said although Hampton was living at the residence and knew the victim, she has no recollection of the killing and suffers from delusions.

While Dumars said his client does understand that she has mental illness issues, she doesn't believe that she did it.

Dumars said Hampton has been treated at Napa State Hospital.

According to court documents, the district attorney's office on Oct. 1 and Nov. 5 offered Hampton a plea agreement.

Both agreements would have meant Hampton would have to plead no contest to murder in exchange for an indefinite stay at a state mental hospital.

On both occasions, Hampton appeared ready to move forward with a plea agreement, but then declined.

An autopsy conducted on Baiz's body determined he was shot multiple times, beaten and possibly strangled.

Hampton remains at the Merced County Jail in lieu of $1.1 million bail.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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