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Suspect reveals girl was struck by van, buried



Published: Fri, June 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The girl vanished in February 1999.

DAYTON (AP) -- A man accused of disposing of the body of a 9-year-old girl missing for six years told investigators the girl was struck by a van and her body buried, a detective testified Thursday.

It is the first time prosecutors have explained why they believe Erica Baker was struck by a van and why Christian Gabriel is suspected of disposing of her body, which has not been found.

Gabriel, 33, of Springfield, is trying to keep his statements to police out of his trial on charges of corpse abuse and evidence tampering.

The girl vanished in February 1999 while walking her dog near her home in suburban Kettering.

Huffman Dam

Robert Green, a detective in Kettering, said Gabriel told him in July that Erica's body had been buried near Huffman Dam, north of Dayton. Gabriel took investigators to the dam, but the body was not found there, Green said in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

Clark County sheriff's Deputy Robert Wise accompanied Gabriel to the dam and said Gabriel told him he had been a passenger in the van that struck the girl. Gabriel said the girl's body was driven to a bridge area at the dam and that others in the van disappeared with it, Wise said.

Six months later, Gabriel told investigators that the body was buried at Caesar Creek State Park, southeast of Dayton, then he helped draw a map and accompanied investigators in the search, Green said.

Gabriel claimed at one point that he couldn't remember where the body was buried and took investigators to several sites in Dayton to try to find it, Green said.

Confession

Mark Saunders, warden at the Southeastern Correctional Institution near Lancaster, where Gabriel was an inmate, said Gabriel stopped him as he was making rounds Feb. 4.

Saunders said Gabriel told him he had confessed, but that he didn't know where the others had put the girl's body because he wasn't familiar with the Dayton area.

Defense attorney Frank Malocu said Gabriel was interrogated by police at least 13 times and was not informed of his rights before all interrogations.

Green pressured Gabriel to talk and once brought him to tears by telling him there were two Gabriels -- a family man and one who made a mistake, Malocu said.

Under cross examination, Green acknowledged that Gabriel told him that he made the statements to get investigators off his back.

Disbelief

Green said he told Gabriel he didn't believe some of his statements. For example, the location of where the girl's body was allegedly buried at Caesar Creek made no sense because of where the lake's water levels were at the time, he said.

"And he told me someone else was driving the van. I didn't believe it," Green said.

Gabriel, who pleaded innocent, is the only person charged in the case.

Malocu said he is challenging all of Gabriels' statements because of the circumstances, including long interrogations.

Written arguments

"It appears that even the police didn't believe the statements," Malocu said during a break in the hearing.

Judge Michael Hall did not immediately rule on the defense motion to bar Gabriel's statements from trial. He gave Malocu and prosecutors two weeks to submit additional written arguments.

Police have stopped searching for the girl's body, saying they need more information about where to look.

Pam Schmidt, the girl's grandmother, said she is confident the family will eventually recover Erica's remains even if Gabriel doesn't lead them there.

"I believe we're going to find Erica -- with or without him," she said.




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