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‘90 Slaying Case Nears Its Final Chapter : Crime: A former roommate faces a court hearing Monday. A second suspect helped eulogize the victim, a UCLA student, 21.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a murder investigation that began more than three years ago when a pair of hikers discovered Ron Baker’s mangled corpse lying near the mouth of a railroad tunnel at a Chatsworth park.

Baker, a 21-year-old astrophysics major at UCLA, had been stabbed 18 times. His throat was slashed so badly his head had nearly been severed from his slightly built body.

Los Angeles police detectives initially thought the body was that of a transient who had been hit by a train. After identifying him, police briefly explored the possibility that Baker had been killed in a kidnap plot.

Baker’s parents had received a pair of anonymous phone calls--one before and one after his body was found--in which a caller demanded $100,000 in ransom for his return. Police quickly discounted the calls as a ruse by the killer to throw them off the track.

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Later, detectives would investigate whether the student’s exploration of the occult had somehow gotten him killed.

The tall, slender youth with curly blond hair frequently meditated in the railroad tunnel, which had been the scene of occult activities and purported animal sacrifices, police said.

He was found June 22, 1990, at Chatsworth Park South wearing a string necklace with a pentagram pendant--the day after the summer solstice, regarded as a holy day by followers of the occult.

But confounding the investigation for police was that believers of Wicca, the occult religion that Baker studied, are against bloodletting.

Described by friends and family as a deeply serious young man who was searching for spiritual fulfillment, Baker had been involved in the student ministry on the UCLA campus and the Methodist church he had attended since he was a boy growing up in Woodland Hills.

In an interview two weeks after his son’s slaying, Gaylon Baker said, “I feel that someone he didn’t know accosted him and attacked him.”

It was a feeling that turned out to be wrong.

Police Department detectives would later come to believe that Baker was killed by one of his roommates during a kidnap attempt designed to extort money from his parents, according to court records.

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A Los Angeles County grand jury indicted Nathaniel Blalock, now 26, on the eve of the three-year anniversary of Baker’s slaying on a single count of murder with the special allegation of lying in wait.

A pretrial hearing in the case against Blalock has been scheduled for Monday. The public defender representing him, however, said she will try to get the case dismissed on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Blalock confessed to Police Department detectives during a prison interview in February that he used a knife to stab Baker at least twice, according to court records. Authorities also matched blood taken from under Baker’s fingernails after his death to Blalock’s relatively rare AB blood type--possessed by only 4% of the population.

The two young men had shared a two-bedroom Van Nuys apartment with a third roommate, Duncan Martinez. Police Department detectives said they had begun investigating both Blalock and Martinez within days of the stabbing. According to court records, the two told another friend they had last seen Baker the night before he was found dead when they dropped him off at a bus stop at Van Nuys and Victory boulevards.

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“They had been the focus of the investigation from the onset,” Detective Rick Jackson said.

Yet the investigation was put on hold when Martinez disappeared just a little over a month after Baker had been killed. Later, Blalock was convicted of armed robbery and ordered to serve time in the State Prison at Tehachapi.

It was not until an attorney representing Martinez contacted police in February that the case began to unfold.

At a meeting set up between Martinez and detectives, Martinez discussed the night of Baker’s slaying and events that followed, Jackson said.

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“He laid out a scenario of the specifics,” Jackson said.

Martinez also agreed to tape a series of three conversations between himself and Blalock, a dialogue that police later used to confront Blalock during a prison interview at Tehachapi, which also was taped with a recorder hidden in a briefcase, according to a grand jury transcript.

Blalock told detectives that Martinez had come up with the idea to kidnap Baker and take him to the park that night in an attempt to get money from Baker’s parents. The interview climaxed when Blalock confessed to stabbing Baker.

According to the grand jury transcript, Police Department Detective Frank Garcia asked: “But you remember stabbing him?”

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“Yeah, but not a whole lot of times. I don’t remember. I don’t remember stabbing him a whole lot of times . . .,” Blalock said.

Blalock also told detectives that he did not remember everything that happened the night of the slaying, but that he must have stabbed Baker in anger, according to a summary of the interview included in a motion to dismiss the case filed by the public defender representing Blalock.

If convicted of the charges, Blalock, who is being housed at a Los Angeles County jail, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ernie Norris, who is prosecuting the case, said the district attorney’s office is in the process of deciding how they will proceed against Martinez, a co-conspirator in the alleged kidnap plot, whose taped conversation ultimately led to Blalock’s confession.

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Issues that remain unresolved include whether to charge Martinez with lesser counts or use him as a witness at Blalock’s trial. Norris said the decision could be made this week.

Deputy Public Defender Laura Green, Blalock’s attorney--who has filed a motion to have the case against him dismissed--maintained her client’s innocence in spite of the taped confession.

“I believe there was insufficient evidence to show that Mr. Blalock was the one who committed the crime,” Green said. “There are a lot of reasons people make statements and it’s not always because they are guilty.”

Last week, Katherine Baker, the victim’s mother, said that in January, 1990, Blalock and Martinez moved into the apartment she and her husband had helped their son rent the previous month. She said her son had met Martinez in his freshmen year of college when they both worked at Sears, and that they subsequently shared a West Hollywood apartment for about a year.

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Katherine Baker said she did not meet Blalock until after her son’s slaying, when she and her husband went to the apartment to collect his belongings.

“He acted kind of nonchalant,” said Katherine Baker of Blalock. “He wasn’t present for Ron’s funeral, which we found strange. His reasoning was that he had a previous family engagement to go to back East.”

Martinez not only attended Baker’s funeral service, but he also helped eulogize her son, Katherine Baker said.

“He talked about Ron and their friendship and that he was going to miss him and so on,” she said. “I look back on that and think, ‘You lying blankety-blank.’ ”

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“Duncan (Martinez) had joined us for birthdays,” she said. “We thought he was a friend of Ron’s, but he definitely didn’t act as a friend the night Ron was killed.”


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