2007 murder case trial date set

A four-year-old Catawba County murder case will go to trial in January, court officials decided Monday.

John Lee Mitchell, the man accused of killing 19-year-old Bunker Hill graduate Travis Baker more than four years ago, will face trial the week of Jan. 16, 2012, Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts said.

Mitchell has been in jail since police arrested him in June 2009, days after investigators discovered Baker’s remains on a 100-acre property near Catawba.

After vanishing in April 2007, Baker’s disappearance started as a missing person case. But when his skull and other remains were found in an open field two years later, the case turned into a homicide investigation.

Baker was last seen in his candy-apple red Camaro near Oxford School Road on April 16, 2007, when he was believed to be heading to work at Merchants Distributors Inc. According to a search warrant, however, Baker may have been delivering narcotics to Mitchell’s home in the area. Investigators believe that the two had an altercation the same day, which ended when Mitchell allegedly shot Baker.

Shortly after the murder, investigators believe Mitchell moved Baker’s body about 10 miles to a property on Eulalia Lane near Catawba, Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said during a press conference in June 2009.

Authorities found Mitchell’s skull, along with other remains, at the property on Eulalia Lane on June 24, 2009. They also found a car bumper from a 1993-2000 Camaro that matches the description of Baker’s candy-apple red vehicle.

Authorities say Mitchell was a suspect in the murder since Baker initially disappeared in 2007. According to investigators, Mitchell went to Florida about three weeks after Baker disappeared and resided there until he was arrested following the discovery of Baker’s remains.

Mitchell was arraigned in January on charges of murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and failure to report a death. He was originally scheduled for trial this week, but the trial was moved to January 2012, said Assistant District 25 Attorney Sean McGinnis.

Mitchell has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Dec. 5, but McGinnis said it looks like the trial will start the week of Jan. 16, 2012.