Trial starts for former York cop accused of beating wife to death, car crash cover-up

A former police officer from York beat his wife to death in Chester in 2016, then covered up the crime with a car crash, prosecutors said in court Monday.

James Harold “Jamie” Baldwin Jr., 60, was arrested in August 2018 for the death of Judy Orr Baldwin. His trial for murder started Monday at the Lancaster County Courthouse.

Baldwin faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Jamie Baldwin Jr. is a former South Carolina police officer in York and Columbia, who also worked at the Chester County Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher for a decade, records show.

Baldwin was arrested after an 18-month investigation in 2018. The Herald first report in August 2018 that a grand jury indicted Baldwin for murder.

Prosecutors said in court Baldwin’s experience as a police officer was part of his scheme and plan to get away with the killing. Baldwin beat his wife to death, then claimed she was killed in a wreck, prosecutors said. Baldwin told police who responded to the crash that he was rushing her to a hospital after she fell while hanging Christmas lights in December 2016.

“Judy Orr Baldwin died a painful, severe death,” said 6th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively during Monday’s opening arguments. “It was at the hands of her own husband. This defendant: James Baldwin.”

Judy Baldwin had a 24-centimeter crack in her skull, Lively said.

Lively told the jury that prosecutors admit there was not a complete investigation by Chester County Sheriff’s Office in the beginning after Judy Baldwin died.

The State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Highway Patrol later investigated and determined the death was a homicide, Lively said.

“At the end of the case, this is no doubt, a murder,” Lively said.

One of Baldwin’s lawyers, Brad Jordan, said in his opening statement that jurors can’t convict Baldwin if there is reasonable doubt. Baldwin tried to help his wife get to the hospital in December 2016 after a fall, not hurt her, Jordan said.

Two autopsies soon after Judy Baldwin died could not rule out her injuries were consistent with a fall, Jordan said.

“You can’t rule out the fall was an accident,” Jordan said in court.

Jordan said James Baldwin went out to the garage after the couple was working on the Christmas tree, then came back to find his wife on her knees covered in blood after she had fallen. The crash on the way to the hospital was because another vehicle had run Baldwin off the road, Jordan said.

Baldwin said his wife was thrown from the vehicle under a bridge during the crash, according to a 911 call played in court.

“Please help me,” Baldwin said in the 911 call. “My wife ... I don’t think she’s breathing.”

The trial continues Tuesday.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.