PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – Disclaimer: Some may find the details included in this story to be graphic in nature. Discretion is advised.
Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of killing two young brothers in 2020 in Putnam County.
Mark Wilson Jr. was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Tayten Baker, 14, and his 12-year-old brother Robert Baker, who were stabbed and bludgeoned in their home in Melrose. Wilson, who was dating the boys’ aunt at the time of the slayings, is facing the death penalty if convicted. It’s the first capital murder case in Putnam County in a decade.
The boys’ family members were in court Tuesday, with their mother and step-grandmother taking the stand in the morning. Some of the images displayed were so graphic that the boys’ father walked out of the courtroom.
Sarah Baker, the boys’ mother, was the first witness to take the stand. She spoke about waking up the morning of Aug. 26, 2020, and finding her sons’ bodies covered in blood.
“You could tell that his throat was severed completely through, almost to the bone, because that’s when I realized there was no pulse,” she said.
She testified that she found Tayten Baker’s body first.
“When I ripped off, the blanket I knew. It was everywhere. He was covered in blood,” she said. “I ran over to Robert, and I’m screaming at him to call 911, and I rip his blanket off and all I can remember is his head flipped forward and then it banged back up against the wall. He was the same thing, soaked in blood, and I didn’t get a good look at what his injuries looked like, but I did as far as Tayten’s. In that moment, I started screaming, like, at the top of my lungs.”
She and her 4-year-old son rushed to her father’s house nearby where she found the boys’ step-grandmother, Deborah Benson.
“She said, ‘Debbie, Debbie, call 911. I think my kids are dead,’” Benson recounted. “She was terrified and panicked, and I remember her nightgown was ripped.”
She said she didn’t believe her until she saw the bodies for herself.
“I saw Tayten, and he was laying facedown on the ground, and I knew immediately when I saw him and I told the operator, ‘Yes, he is dead,’” Benson recalled.
She said her husband, the boys’ grandfather, arrived soon after that.
“I said to him, ‘They’re dead. They are dead.’ And he said ‘No!’ And he started screaming, and he hit the door and he ran into the house,” Benson said.
Sarah Baker testified that her sister; her sister’s boyfriend at the time, Wilson; and the couple’s infant daughter were staying in an outbuilding on her property at the time of the killings. She said Wilson and her sister had stayed with them on and off over the years. She said she didn’t notice anything unusual about her sister or Wilson’s demeanor the night before, but she did see Wilson sharpening his knife as they had what she described as a normal conversation.
Prosecutors said in opening statements that Wilson admitted the next day to his mother that he murdered Robert and Tayten Baker and that she went to law enforcement. She and investigators worked together to record a conversation between her and her son in which prosecutors said Wilson confessed. Wilson, who was 30 at the time, was arrested.
The prosecution said he confessed only after being confronted with the recording — saying he used a knife and hammer that were found on the property and giving reasons that didn’t make sense, telling law enforcement he killed the 12- and 14-year-old boys to protect his family — he thought Sarah Baker and her family were “coming after us” by threatening to call the Department of Children and Families; he thought the boys were harming his daughter; and he thought the boys were sleeping with his girlfriend.
Sarah Baker testified she invited the couple to stay with her family just five days before the murders after she caught them smoking marijuana in the presence of their baby.
“I can’t remember my exact words, but it was to the lines of, ‘If you guys can’t get your **** together, then I’m going to have no choice but to turn it over to DCF to get other people involved in helping,’” she said. “But they agreed to move to my house.”
In court Tuesday, it was revealed Wilson learned his girlfriend was pregnant the night before the murders.
The defense said Wilson feels remorse and takes accountability. There has been little cross-examination of the witnesses.
Wilson, now 32, offered to plead guilty in the case, but prosecutors are determined to seek the death penalty if Wilson is convicted.
The trial was delayed Monday because of an issue with the jury, but shortly after 6 p.m., a jury was selected. It is unclear what the issue with the jury was, but jury selection for the trial began last week and led to another day.
The judge said Monday that the trial is expected to last all week and they will be off next week with the possibility of the trial picking back up on Oct. 24.