Retired JSO detective pleads not guilty to murder, other charges

William Baer accused in 1999 stabbing death of Jacksonville business owner

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo: William Baer

An attorney for a retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective accused in a cold case murder entered a not guilty plea Wednesday morning on charges of second-degree murder, armed robbery, armed burglary, armed kidnapping and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

William Baer, 64, is charged in the 1999 stabbing death of Jacksonville businessman Saad Kawaf.

Baer waived his appearance Wednesday morning and only his attorney participated in the arraignment via video conference.

Baer’s ex-wife, Melissa Schafer, is also facing charges in the murder after the pair were arrested separately in early July. Schafer, 50, was jailed in Missouri but has since been booked into the Duval County jail on murder and robbery charges. She is being held without bond.

Melissa Schafer (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

Kawaf, 39, who owned Forest Discount Store, was killed during a robbery in May 1999. According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, DNA evidence collected from the attack later pointed to Baer and Schafer, who were married at the time of the attack.

Police said Kawaf was getting ready to leave his home when he was ambushed by a man and woman in his garage and stabbed by the man. Kawaf’s wife got into a physical altercation with the woman, but she forced back into the home and threatened with a knife by the man.

RELATED: Warrant for ex-JSO detective paints grim picture of deadly attack

The attackers said they knew Kawaf had not yet made the weekly deposit at the bank and they wanted the cash. Eventually, the wife told them where they could find $30,000 in the kitchen cabinets.

They took the money, taped her to a chair and ran off. Kawaf did not survive his stabbing injuries.

Baer was with the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, joining in 1975 and retiring in 2002. At the time of the murder, Baer had been an intelligence division detective and knew Kawaf through work, JSO said.

DNA under Kawaf’s fingernails and blood found at the scene were later used to create profiles that were matched through genetic testing.

Baer’s attorneys have filed a motion asking for their client to be granted bail saying his life is in danger inside the jail due to the coronavirus. They say underlying health issues put him at risk of complications if he contracts the virus, which has already infected hundreds of inmates.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.