Accused killer's arrest was aided by public

Published On: Jul 30 2013 06:18:00 PM HST

Vernon Baker, 41, appeared in Honolulu District Court Tuesday, where he entered not guilty pleas in the second-degree murder of real estate agent Mary Beth San Juan, and two counts of promoting a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia.  

Baker is scheduled to be back in court this Thursday for a preliminary hearing. His bail was set at $200,000.

San Juan's bound and gagged body was found last Tuesday evening outside her Punahou Street home inside a rolled carpet by ex-husband Alberto San Juan. A day later, her 2013 silver Mercedes Benz was found abandoned near the Kapiolani Park Bandstand.

Meanwhile, court documents show two critical tips from helped police draw an arrow that pointed directly to Baker as the prime suspect in San Juan's murder.

A witness that called Honolulu CrimeStoppers said a man that looked like Baker was going through San Juan's Mercedes on the day her body was found. The Mercedes was parked on San Juan's driveway at 1224 Punahou St. The tip was called in two days after San Juan's body was discovered by her ex-husband.

Police then pulled a picture from Baker's Facebook account, and the CrimeStoppers witness identified Baker as the man going through San Juan's vehicle.

Another break came when San Juan's wallet was found by a man inside a dumpster at the Hokondo Waikiki Beachside Hostel on Lemon Road two days after the murder investigation began. Police confirmed Baker was a guest at the hostel, and started watching him.

On Saturday, police were staking out the hostel when they observed Baker leave on foot with a black/brown backpack and several "laptop type bags." Baker was seen walking to a beachside pavilion on Kalakaua Avenue near Liliuokalani Avenue, where he met a homeless man in a greet shirt. Baker and the homeless man then left the pavilion in opposite directions.  

According to a sworn affidavit by HPD detective Thomas Chang, police observed that Baker "did not appear to have the black/brown backpack on his person" when he left the pavilion.

A short time later on that same Saturday, police dispatch received a phone call from a woman who stated she had just recovered a computer belonging to San Juan from a homeless man. Through further investigation, detectives determined the homeless man was the same person seen talking with Baker at the beachside pavilion. The unidentified man told police Baker had given him San Juan's laptop to sell for cash.

With a wall of the evidence closing around Baker, police followed him to the Ala Moana Shopping Center Makai Marketplace, where he was arrested for San Juan's murder.

On the day of Baker's arrest on Saturday, Honolulu police held a news conference where they thanked tipsters for their assistance in helping solve the case.  

"The public always has been and always will be our greatest partner in fighting crime, but in this case they were very, very, very helpful," said Maj. Richard Robinson of HPD's Criminal Investigation Division.

Police say San Juan, 56, and Baker were acquaintances, but have not elaborated on how the two first met. Court documents also show San Juan's ex-husband was with her on the weekend of July 13 when she gave Baker a ride to his home. The ex-husband told detectives Baker appeared agitated at the time of the encounter.


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