Ex-police officer's prison sentence upheld in York County case where he killed his wife




  • In US
  • 2022-12-07 18:25:37Z
  • By Rock Hill Herald
 

A South Carolina appeals court panel has upheld the murder conviction of a former police officer serving life in prison for killing his wife.

James Harold Baldwin Jr. claimed a Facebook picture with a convicted former-sheriff tainted the trial, court records show.

Baldwin, 63, was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Dan Hall after he was convicted of murder in a 2019 trial for the 2016 death of Judy Orr Baldwin in Chester.

Chester County is located between Rock Hill and Columbia and has around 32,000 residents.

Baldwin claimed on appeal that the Facebook photo of him with former Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, which was provided to the jury during the 2019 trial was prejudicial and should overturn the verdict.

In an opinion made public Wednesday, the appeals court unanimously agreed that the trial judge made an error in allowing the picture of Baldwin and Underwood in the trial, but the picture did not change the outcome.

"The trial court erred in admitting a Facebook photo of Baldwin and the Sheriff of Chester County that was not relevant to a pertinent issue, but the error was harmless because it did not affect the verdict," the appeals court stated in the document.

The arrest and conviction of Baldwin, covered first by The Herald, was the focus of an NBC Dateline story in 2020.

A SLED investigation

Chester County prosecutors said in court in the 2019 trial that the Chester sheriff's office did not properly investigate Judy Orr Baldwin's death as a homicide.

Sixth Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman and Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively asked South Carolina state police to investigate.

An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Highway Patrol showed Judy Orr Baldwin had been hit in the head before a car crash in 2016, prosecutors said during the 2019 trial.

Baldwin later drove a car with his wife in it into a creek to try and make her death appear to be an accident, prosecutors said at trial.

Baldwin's lawyers claimed his wife hurt her head when she fell while hanging Christmas ornaments, and Baldwin crashed the car while rushing her to a hospital.

At the time of the trial, Baldwin also had been previously arrested in York County in 2017 on charges of arson and insurance fraud. Those charges were dismissed in 2020 after Baldwin was convicted of murder, records show.

Underwood had been suspended from office after he was indicted by federal prosecutors in May 2019. Underwood was convicted at a federal court trial in 2021 and started his prison sentence about two months ago.

Baldwin was a former police officer in York and Columbia, and spent about a decade as a dispatcher for the Chester County Sheriff's Office, before he was arrested in 2018.

What happens now?

The appeals court also affirmed Baldwin's conviction when it rejected an argument from Baldwin that a pathologist who testified in the trial testified outside her scope of expertise, documents show.

It remains unclear if Baldwin will ask the full appeals court or the S.C. Supreme Court to hear his case.

Baldwin remains in the S.C. Department of Corrections and is not eligible for parole, according to records.

Underwood is now serving a four-year federal prison sentence for unrelated corruption convictions while he was sheriff.

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