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The end of innocence 

Nathan Baird took a road trip with a killer. Now he's facing the possibility of 12 years in prison.

click to enlarge Nathan Baird, shown here with the red Camaro he took on a road trip with Jesse J. Kaufman shortly after - Kaufman stabbed a man. Baird has been charged with - being an accessory to murder. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Nathan Baird, shown here with the red Camaro he took on a road trip with Jesse J. Kaufman shortly after Kaufman stabbed a man. Baird has been charged with being an accessory to murder.

Nathan Baird, a computer technician who was just five days shy of his 25th birthday, was asleep in the modest home he owned on the city's east side. It was just after 2 a.m. A few miles away, in downtown Colorado Springs, a twisted Fort Carson soldier with a head full of booze and heart full of hate had just brought his lifetime of fascination with knives to a grisly climax, taking out a four-inch blade and slashing open the stomach of a man he said had insulted him. The victim, his guts spilling onto the sidewalk, would live for just another 20 minutes.

Jesse Kaufman and his girlfriend ran back to his waiting truck and fled. The soldier-turned-murderer needed to wash off the knife and get rid of his bloody shirt. They headed for the house where she rented a room.

Baird's house.

Baird and the soldier barely knew each other, having exchanged greetings two or three times, each time late at night when Kaufman and his girlfriend had staggered into the house after a night of heavy partying at downtown bars. But now the two were racing toward Baird's house with blood-spattered clothes. And the life of the quiet young man who lay sleeping in his bed was about to be turned upside down.

Baird now finds himself charged with being an accessory to first-degree murder in the May 5, 2003, stabbing death of Jason Kettle, 25. The district attorney's office has also charged him with being an accessory in the wounding of Kettle's fellow soldier, Christopher Walko.

Baird, who is scheduled to go on trial in April, could spend up to 12 years in prison if convicted on both charges.

He has filed a civil suit against Colorado Springs, the district attorney's office, the police department and the El Paso County Sheriff's Department claiming he has been falsely charged in the case. After he filed the civil complaint, the district attorney's office turned up the heat in his prosecution.

Though Baird was nowhere near the scene of the stabbing, prosecutors say Baird is guilty of being an accessory to murder because of one simple fact: During Kaufman's four days of running from the law, Baird was with him.

From the arrest warrant: "Between May 6, 2003 and May 9, 2003, Nathan Baird did unlawfully, feloniously, and with the intent to hinder, delay, and prevent the discovery, detection, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of Jesse J. Kaufman for the commission of murder in the first degree and did render assistance to Jesse J. Kaufman knowing that he was suspected of and/or wanted for that crime."

The killer beside him

The prosecution of Baird, spearheaded by recently departed El Paso County district attorney Jeanne Smith, appears unusual. He was charged, according to Smith's office, because he and Kaufman got into Baird's car the day after the fatal stabbing and drove first to Chicago and then to Florida. Baird says it began as a joyride, just a light-hearted road trip, with Kaufman paying all the bills. Baird says he only learned of the killing after they arrived in Chicago -- during a phone call with his worried mother -- and that he immediately became scared. When Baird made that phone call to his mother in Colorado Springs to ask what he should do, the killer sitting beside him held up one of the several knives he carried, stared at Baird and making a slashing motion across his own throat.

"At that point," Baird said, "I thought he was going to kill me, too. I was trying to figure out how to get out of the whole thing without dying."

Baird convinced Kaufman the two should drive to Florida, where Baird's father lives. His father, he told Kaufman, would know what to do. But Baird had not seen or heard from his father in 17 years. He told police he was only trying to buy some time without arousing Kaufman's suspicion and anger.

"Jesse talked about friends who had killed people, like a mafia kind of thing," Baird said. "I was just so scared. I figured even if I could get away in Chicago, he'd know who turned him in and he'd have someone kill me. So I was thinking that I needed to turn him in, but to do it without him knowing it was me."

So they left Chicago and drove, stopping only a few times for gas, for more than 20 hours. Baird, who weighed about 140 pounds at the time, spent the next several days as a hostage. He says he feared Kaufman, a 210-pound trained killer who liked to flash his collection of knives, would kill him if he tried to turn the soldier in.

In Florida, Baird used property tax records to locate his father. He told Kaufman he hadn't seen his dad in a long time and wanted some private time with him. Kaufman said that would be OK, and once out of Kaufman's reach Baird told his father and his father's wife the story. She called police, and Baird and his father agreed to bring Kaufman to a restaurant where police were waiting. Both young men were arrested.

The day was May 9, 2003. Last year, a jury found Kaufman guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. He was also convicted of attempted second-degree murder for the second attack.

"I thought I did the right thing," said Baird, who is currently free on $25,000 bond. "As soon as I found out what he'd done I talked him out of going to Canada, where he wanted to go, and figured out a way to get him turned in. And I didn't get killed doing it."

Changing stories

And there's another unusual aspect to the case. Ursula Murray was Kaufman's girlfriend at the time of the killing. She was with the soldier when he stabbed Kettle to death and slashed Kettle's friend, Walko, who recovered.

At least one witness said Murray -- who has served jail time for assault -- provoked the deadly stabbing, getting into an argument with the two victims and urging Kaufman to fight the two men.

That witness, Kaufman's Army buddy Patrick Harrison -- who went to police a few hours after the attack and told them the whole story -- said that after the stabbing Murray brought them back to the house where she rented a room and helped them clean the blood off the knife.

Murray did not call police to turn Kaufman in.

Transcripts of her interrogations by Colorado Springs police are filled with lies as she presented an ever-changing story about the killing and her role in it. Over and over, police interrogators catch contradictions and false statements in her stories. Detective Kirk Wilson, in his report following his second interview with Murray, writes: "I began the interview by explaining to her that I knew she had been lying to me on the previous interview."

And yet Murray was not charged by District Attorney Smith's office with being an accessory to the crimes.

Detective Wilson first questioned Murray about 12 hours after the attack. Early in the interview she denied any knowledge of the stabbing.

Wilson: "There's two parties who got stabbed in the street at, uh, I guess it was at Pikes Peak and Tejon."

click to enlarge Jesse J. Kaufman was found guilty of first-degree murder and is spending his life in prison without the possibility - of parole. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Jesse J. Kaufman was found guilty of first-degree murder and is spending his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Murray: "Oh, really?"

Wilson: "You remember anyone having a confrontation with anybody saying anything to you or ...?"

Murray: "No. I did not argue with anybody last night and as far as I know Jesse didn't either."

Wilson: "You never saw him get in an argument with anybody?"

Murray: "Uh-uh."

After the stabbing she and the two soldiers drove back to Baird's house. About 10 minutes into the interview by police, she said the soldiers did not come into the house after the attack. Harrison said they did, and also told police Kaufman washed the bloody knife in Murray's bathroom.

Wilson: "What happened back at your place? Did they come in?"

Murray: "Huh? No. No."

She later admitted both Kaufman and Harrison did come into the home after the attack. Murray also denied ever seeing the murder weapon, and told police Kaufman did not have a bloody shirt after the attack. Harrison said Kaufman's white T-shirt was soaked in blood.

Murray's answers to police were riddled with inconsistencies. About 20 minutes into the interview, officer Wilson said this: "I need the truth from you. And what you just gave me here is not the truth. OK?"

Later, a frustrated Wilson says: "You want to tell me a different story?"

Murray then admitted being at the scene.

"It's like, just, that you know I was there," she said.

But she continued to insist that following the stabbing Kaufman and Harrison did not enter the home where she was renting a room. Later that day, police found blood in the sink in Murray's bathroom.

Girlfriend not charged

In a brief interview for this story, Deputy District Attorney Diana May, who is prosecuting the Baird case said: "With a homicide case we sometimes find people helping the defendants, either with driving them someplace or helping them with evidence. We ask ourselves if they were up front with police right away and did they come forward right away. If they lie to police the first time they're interviewed and then change their story, then we're likely to charge them with accessory. Ursula Murray? Well, I'll have to talk to my supervisor and see if we can comment any further about this case."

In a follow-up interview two days later, May said: "We can't give you ... we can't comment on your questions due to rules of ethics. I can't give you any information about why Nathan was charged in this case or why Ursula Murray was not charged."

After his arrest in Florida and extradition to Colorado, Baird, who had started his own computer repair business, lost clients and eventually stopped working. Late in 2003 he filed the civil lawsuit seeking $300,000 for lost wages, attorneys' fees and other expenses.

Among his claims: that Colorado Springs police didn't act quickly enough to capture Kaufman before he left town. His Army friend, Harrison, had told police the story of the stabbing by 9 a.m., some seven hours after the attack. Kaufman, according to investigators, had been at Baird's home -- Baird was not there -- from about 8 a.m. until about 11:40 a.m., when he called for a taxi.

Despite having been told that Kaufman was the attacker in the early morning stabbing and that he might be hiding out at Baird's home, police, according to the civil suit, did not go to the residence for nearly two and a half hours.

In a May 13, 2004, letter to Baird, the city's risk management formally rejected Baird's claim. "Our findings," the letter from claims adjuster L.R. Seffrood said, "reveal that the Colorado Springs Police Department acted reasonably, appropriately and with probable cause in this situation" and "reveal no evidence of negligence on behalf of the City of Colorado Springs/Colorado Springs Police Department that resulted in your arrest."

After he filed the suit, Baird said, the district attorney's office became more aggressive. And in December 2004 -- 19 months after the killing -- the district attorney filed an additional charge of drug possession against Baird. That charge is based, the district attorney's office said, on residue of cocaine found on a $10 bill in the living room of Baird's home during a search of the house the day of the 2003 stabbing. At Kaufman's trial, witnesses described the soldier as a cocaine user. He was the last one in Baird's home on that morning, some five hours before police found the cocaine residue.

Friends of Baird, already shocked by the accessory to murder charge, were stunned by the drug charges now pending against him. Even his roommate Murray, during questioning by police, said, "Nathan's the kind of person that doesn't drink. He doesn't find any enjoyment in drinking. He usually just goes out with friends and plays pool and drinks water. He's a pretty quiet kind of person."

Breaking the bank

Baird says sometimes the whole thing seems like a nightmare. Born in Fullerton, Calif., he moved with his mother, Karen Sommers, to Colorado Springs in 1994 and enrolled at Liberty High School. The painfully shy and quiet young man dropped out during his junior year. "I didn't like high school," he said. "I didn't relate to anyone. I had no friends."

Baird earned his GED in 1996 and in 1999 received an associate of science degree from Pikes Peak Community College and began working with computers. His first job, with a local software firm, ended in his firing. He then began his own business of repairing computers and linking computers to a network system. The business was growing -- he had about a dozen regular customers -- when Kaufman came calling on May 5, 2003.

Today, a few months before his trial is scheduled to begin, Baird fears he'll be convicted of being an accessory to murder because he can't afford an attorney. He hired Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney Clifton Black, but said he couldn't keep up with the lawyer's demand for money.

"He told me to put an installment, about $10,000, on my credit card," Baird said. "I told him I couldn't do that, that it would force me into bankruptcy. And then he looked at me and said, 'Well, that's OK. I handle bankruptcies, too.'"

click to enlarge The bathroom in Nathan Bairds Colorado Springs home, where police found blood in the sink from the murder weapon. Baird, right, is pictured here with his mother, - Karen Sommers. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • The bathroom in Nathan Bairds Colorado Springs home, where police found blood in the sink from the murder weapon. Baird, right, is pictured here with his mother, Karen Sommers.

Black, interviewed for this story, said he felt Baird's case "was malicious prosecution" by the district attorney's office. He also said he couldn't comment on whether his fees caused Baird to drop him from the case, citing attorney-client privilege.

Baird's public defender, Patricia Behan, did not return half a dozen phone calls seeking comment for this story. Baird said he has only spoken to Behan twice and that she has never asked him to tell his story about those four fateful days when he and Kaufman left Colorado and ended up in Florida.

Here is some of that story.

"I'd only met Jesse two times before that day," Baird said. "We weren't friends or anything. But that morning I was kind of bummed out because a road trip I had planned with some friends to Las Vegas fell through. They bailed out. So in the afternoon, Jesse asks me if I want to go on a little trip and I thought, 'Why not?' He was an Army soldier. I kind of looked up to him. I thought it would be fun.

"I had driven Ursula to work that morning. Jesse said he was busy and gave me $20 to give her a ride. On the way she said Jesse had gotten into a fight the night before. I didn't think anything about it. I figured she meant, you know, a fistfight or a scuffle or something."

Shortly after noon, Baird and Kaufman hit the road. They stopped in Denver, where Kaufman went to a bank and withdrew $8,000 from his account.

"He takes a guy he hardly knows to a bank," said prosecutor May, "and the guy withdraws $8,000. Nathan Baird must have known something was wrong."

From Baird: "He said he needed to get some money from his bank and that he'd pay for gas and motels along the way. Because he does that I'm supposed to think he had killed someone?"

'It didn't seem real'

Baird, in his Chevy Camaro, did most of the driving. After hanging out with some friends in Denver, Kaufman bought a map at a gas station.

"I asked him if he wanted to go to Vegas, because that's where I'd planned to go before my friends backed out," Baird said. "But Jesse said, 'You ever been to Chicago?' I was going to Chicago a month later for a computer trade show, and had never seen it, so I said, 'Let's go.'"

They drove through the night, talking mostly, Baird said, about girls. Kaufman said he had some friends who lived near Loyola University and told Baird maybe the friends could introduce them to some college girls. But they also talked, briefly according to Baird, about the fight the night before in Colorado Springs.

"He said a couple guys said something to him outside a bar and they got into a fight," Baird said. "Then he laughed about it. I didn't think anything about it, really."

They arrived in Chicago at about 10 a.m. the day after the stabbing in downtown Colorado Springs. They checked into a motel near Loyola University, records show. Baird said they walked along the Lake Michigan shoreline for a while and spent some time in a video arcade. Then Baird said he needed to get some sleep. Kaufman said he was going to try to find his friends.

"At 9 p.m. Jesse comes back to the motel room, wakes me up and says, 'We have to get out of here,'" Baird said. "He was panicked, acting totally different. He said the police might be looking for him. Then he said he got jumped by a gang of guys and one of the guys might have died. I thought he meant in Chicago, that he just got into a fight in Chicago while he was out. But then he said he meant the fight the night before, back in Colorado.

"I was kind of scared at that point, but I suggested that we should go back to Colorado Springs," he said. "Jesse said there was no way he was going back, and that we needed to leave the motel room right then, and that was the first time he mentioned that in the fight he stabbed a guy. I didn't know what to think. It didn't seem real."

Baird and Kaufman got back into Baird's car. Kaufman, according to Baird, suggested they go to Canada. "I talked him out of that," Baird said. "I was driving and trying to think how to get out of this and then I told him about my father in Florida, and that my father would know what to do. And all the time I'm thinking that there must be an all-points bulletin out for Jesse, and other people knew he was in my car, and that any minute the police would pull us over and the whole thing would be over."

As the two left Chicago and drove south, Baird told Kaufman he needed to call his mother, to tell her that he was safe.

"Jesse looked at me for a minute and said OK, but not to tell anyone that we were together or to say anything about him," Baird said. "When I called my mother on her cell phone she was at the police station, filing a missing person report on me. I told her I was in Chicago and was heading home. Jesse was in the passenger seat and he was giving me one of his looks. Then he got a piece of paper and wrote "Canada" on it and showed it to me, and now he was holding a pocket knife with the blade out and he runs it across his own throat, making a slashing motion with it. He was mad. So when the police asked, on the phone, if I knew where Jesse was I said no and then said I thought he might be headed to Canada."

Court documents indicate that the police, like the district attorney's office, believe Baird was an accomplice simply because he was with the killer in the days following the stabbing, and that Baird may have been withholding information during his initial interrogation by Florida police. Baird says he was initially hesitant to give Florida police all the details of his car trip with Kaufman, fearing the soldier, who was in the same Winter Springs, Fla., jail, would retaliate or have friends retaliate.

"I was sure he could find a way to get me," Baird said. "I knew I didn't do anything wrong and so I didn't tell the police everything right away. I figured Jesse would find out and somehow he'd get me."

Excuses to keep driving

Baird said he drove the entire way to Florida because he thought police would spot his car. (Colorado Springs police, meanwhile, had only sent out an alert about Kaufman and Baird to Colorado law enforcement agencies.) "I didn't want Jesse driving when that happened because I thought he'd try to get away and we'd get killed in a crash or something," Baird said. "So I just made up excuses to keep driving."

About halfway to where Baird knew his father lived, in Winter Springs, he said Kaufman began talking about the stabbing. And then he told Baird something else.

"He started to open up and it was really scary," Baird said. "He said he had killed someone before, that he'd done a hit for the Mexican mafia. He said he charged $50,000 to kill someone. He had this weird look, and a weird smile."

If there was any doubt regarding the mental state of Kaufman, and how the soldier was able to put a chill into people, here is an excerpt from an e-mail Kaufman sent to a friend on April 17, 2003, less than a month before he killed Kettle.

"Ask her if she remembers the story of me killing a cat," Kaufman wrote. It is not clear whom he was referring to. "It was truly gruesome and though I said I didn't torture it, I did. It was alive and I strangled it, burnt its eyes, and eventually hung it from a tree and proceeded to stab it repeatedly, like I said nothing to be proud about. It was a stray and I fed it and then pet it and after a time I earned the cats trust, I did like the cat but I really couldn't keep it in the barracks....so? So honestly I should feel sorry, I just am being myself though, I don't apologize to the cat. Kids love me. I hate everything."

When they arrived in Florida, a frightened Baird told Kaufman he needed some time alone with his father. Because the two hadn't spoken in 17 years, Baird said he spent an hour or so talking to his father about other things before he told him about Kaufman and the stabbing in Colorado Springs. The next morning, after talking about the situation with his son into the night, Baird's father and his wife called police to set up Kaufman's capture.

"I never tried to help Jesse get away," Baird said. "I just wanted to be in a safe position with my dad or somebody who would help me. I needed somebody to help me. I think about that drive from Chicago to Florida a lot. I drove the whole way. I wouldn't let Jesse drive.

"He kept playing with that knife. I thought if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up."

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