JURY RULES BAYLESS DEATH WAS SUICIDE — (Lexington Herald-Leader)

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JURY RULES BAYLESS DEATH WAS SUICIDE

Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)

March 20, 1999

Author: Jamie Butters, herald-leader staff writer

LAWRENCEBURG

An Anderson County jury yesterday agreed unanimously that former AFL-CIO bookkeeper Donna Bayless took her own life in September with a single gunshot to the head.

The wife of former state AFL-CIO political director Morgan Bayless, she was found dead on a remote piece of family property Sept. 19 – five days after the state labor federation was taken over by the national group, and four days after she was last seen.

Anderson coroner Brian Ritchie immediately dubbed the death an “apparent suicide,” but that explanation was questioned for several reasons, including several criminal investigations at AFL-CIO headquarters and delays in reporting autopsy results.

Ritchie said the scope of the investigation led him to present his findings to a jury, which took 37 minutes to review the 75 minutes of testimony.  It was a clear suicide, said the expert witnesses: state police Det. Greg Wolf, state forensic anthropologist Dr. Emily Craig, state associate chief medical examiner Dr. Greg Davis and state police firearms examiner Ronnie Freels.

The last person to see Donna Bayless alive was her daughter, Kelli Smith, whom Bayless drove to school Sept. 15, Wolf said.  Smith, 16, said her mother was concerned that she would face charges related to the AFL-CIO investigation and end up in prison, Wolf told the jury.

When they got to the school, Donna Bayless hugged and kissed her daughter and told her she loved her – an “unusual” display of affection for a schoolday, Wolf said.   The next day, Morgan Bayless reported that Donna Bayless was missing, as was a family vehicle and a dried rose he had given her.

Stepson Joseph Bayless found Donna Bayless four days later. She was lying next to the car, about half a mile off Mays Road, 11 miles west of Lawrenceburg.  Her body was already decomposing and there was a .22-caliber bullet in her skull.   The rose was on the dashboard.

It may have been the second time she tried to kill herself. A rubber hose ran from the tailpipe to the rear window.  The autopsy found moderate levels of carbon monoxide in her blood, which also contained Prozac and the alcohol produced by a decaying body, Davis said.

Bayless, who had recently learned how to handle a pistol, apparently fired the gun four times before putting the muzzle to her head.

It seems she was sitting on an exercise mat when she shot herself and fell back. The way her head was lying on the ground – the only part of her body off the mat – created evidence that she had not been moved since the time of death, Craig said. The gun was found next to her right shoulder, between her gloved hand and the wound.

At least six suicide notes – to Morgan Bayless, to four children, to friend and former co-worker Tammy Woolums – were in or near the car.

The experts dismissed murder and conspiracy ideas as the product of overactive imaginations. “It is extremely uncommon… that a homicide is committed and an attempt is made to make that homicide look like a suicide,” Davis said. “In the rare case when that does occur, it is brazenly obvious that somebody has tampered with the scene. ”

At least one person who was skeptical of the suicide explanation earlier this week now accepts the possibility.

Louise Mansfield, Bayless’s mother, said she and her daughter phoned each other often.

The day Donna Bayless disappeared, Mansfield received an answering-machine message that gave no indication of serious trouble: “It was just `Hi, it’s me, I’ll call back later. Bye.’ ”

Mansfield has said that anything her daughter may have done wrong, she did because she “trusted the wrong people.”

Hearing of the testimony supporting the suicide theory, Mansfield said, “If that is true, then those that pushed her into it, I hope they burn in purgatory.”

Ritchie and Wolf said their investigations of the death of Donna Bayless are now over.

But Wolf said that state police and the FBI are still investigating the arson, burglary and embezzlement cases at state AFL-CIO headquarters in Frankfort. No criminal charges have been filed.

Based on accounting records, union investigators accused the Kentucky AFL-CIO of writing checks to Morgan and Donna Bayless for about $285,000 more than their salaries since September 1995. Morgan Bayless has denied knowing of any excess payments to him or his wife.

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Coroner’s Jury says Union Bookkeeper Death a Suicide — (The Associated Press)

by Ann Gibson

March 21, 1999

Excerpt:  Wolf said that before Mrs Bayless disappeared, police had been interested in questioning her as part of an investigation into a Sept 4 arson fire that destroyed records at the AFL-CIO office and a burglary in August.   That investigation and an FBI investigation into possible embezzlement are ongoing, Wolf said.