In Memory of


Murdered August 21, 1988  
At The
University of Tennessee  

Tom Baer was a very good person. He was always interested in serving his Church, his friends, and his community. He was always glad to see his friends, and made a special effort to welcome and greet them whenever he saw them. He was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, and member of The Order of the Arrow. HeBaers was also a member of The Knights of Columbus.  Tom was a member of many organizations, most of his joy was found in good friendships and company.  It did not matter to Tom whether or not you were a member of a club or other group.  If you were a friend, you were very important to him.  Tom made the most of his life, even though he did not know that he would be on earth for such a short time.  In life, Tom was respected, and his death is very much regretted.  He is sadly missed by his brothers in The Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity.  Before being murdered, Tom was very interested in stage and drama.  He made a brief appearance in a movie filmed in Tennessee.  Perhaps Tom would have a successful career as a movie actor.  We will never know now.

Tom's parents, Tom and Margaret Baer, have been actively working to make college campuses safer with and organization called Security On Campus.  There is now a law that requires colleges to publish campus crime statistics so that students can make decisions regarding their own safety.


The Night of the Murder

On the evening of August 20, 1988, Jeffery R. Underwood intruded into the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity House at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He had been drinking at a bar across the street and taking drugs.  He entered the fraternity house uninvited. Upon discovering that he was not a student or an invited guest, the house manager, Scott Brown, asked him to leave. He became belligerent and pulled a knife, threatening two fraternity brothers, including Brown. Fearing for Scott Brown's safety, fraternity member Danny Baker confronted Underwood. Underwood then attacked Baker, who struck Underwood with a metal table leg, disarming him. Underwood retrieved the knife and ran back to the bar. The police were immediately called. A policewoman responded and questioned Underwood at the bar across the street from the fraternity house and released him. Underwood then left the bar and again made his way back to the fraternity house.

Tom Baer arrived at the house following the altercation. He asked about the commotion and was told of the prior incident. He was instructed by an alumnus as to what he should do and was asked to stand by the back door and not let anyone in. Tom had picked up a softball bat and was using it as a barrier across the door. Jeff Underwood reappeared at the door, intending to force his way in. Tom was holding the baseball bat parallel to the ground at about shoulder level with his arms extended. Words were spoken and Underwood lunged at Tom, stabbing him in the upper chest. Tom said, "he's got a knife, I've been stabbed." Tom then fell toward Underwood and they both fell to the ground. The knife had penetrated his heart. He died with his head in the arms of one of his fraternity brothers before medical help arrived.

Jeffery Underwood was subsequently convicted of second degree murder and two separate counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 15 years on the second degree murder charge and 3 years on each assault charge, the sentences to be served concurrently. Later, he was convicted of drug-related charges for trying to smuggle drugs into the county jail while awaiting trial on the murder charge. He was sentenced to two years on the drug charge to be added to the 15 year sentence. Jeffery Underwood was sentenced on July 5th, 1989. After only 28 months, Jeffery Underwood was up for parole. He was denied parole, but was again up for parole in April 1993, and again in April 1994, and again in April 1995, and again in August 1995!  He was paroled after only six years in jail.  At the last two hearings, the parole board chairman explained that the number one consideration for parole is "average time served" for similar crimes.  In Tennessee, second degree murderers average only six years?

 


Tom Baer's killer was released on Oct. 23, 1997. The conditions of the parole are as follows:
Underwood is to have no contact with the Baer family.
No contact with the living victims he attacked
A warrant will be issued for his arrest if he has anything to do with alcohol, drugs, or weapons.


FROM The University of Tennessee Daily Beacon

Board acted in error by releasing murderer

CHANDRA M. HAYSLETT
Daily Beacon Editor

Jeffrey R. Underwood, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the murder of UT student Thomas Holman Baer Jr., was released on parole, after serving only seven and a half years of his sentence.

The state parole board is composed of seven members from various cities in Tennessee. It takes three votes to grant parole.

Serving seven years of a 17-year sentence is not hardly enough time to pay a debt to society or the family members and friends for killing a person. When Underwood killed Baer, he was issuing him a "life" sentence to death. Shouldn't Underwood receive the same sentence he issued to Baer? Baer's life was taken away; his death is irreversible.

Since Underwood took the life away from another human being, does he really deserve a second chance at life? Underwood should have been sentence to life in prison without parole, simply because this is what Baer received, death without parole.

Is it fair to Baer's grieving family and friends to know that Underwood is receiving a second chance at life, when Baer will never receive his second chance at life? Baer's family must feel awful knowing a killer is lose -- someone who killed a family member and friend.

If people who kill other people are allowed to serve a portion of their sentence before they are released on parole, how are the killers going to learn their lessons? The parole office is allowing murderers to get off free, by granting them the freedom they do not deserve. Have parole offices ever thought there might be a correlation between repeat offenders and shortened sentences?

If criminals, of any nature, are released from prison before they serve the entire sentence, who is to know for sure the criminals have learned a lesson, or if they are truly sorry for the crime committed, and will not commit another crime as long as they are in the free world? Since people cannot be sure the criminal has been totally rehabilitated, the criminal should be forced to complete the entire sentence without the chance of parole.

If people know beforehand if they are caught and convicted of the crime, they will have to serve the entire sentence without the chance of parole, the criminal might think twice before going through with the crime. The thought of serving an entire sentence without the chance of parole could cut down on crime in America.

Parole offices are letting people get away with murder, literally. Parole offices should not pacify the criminal by allowing him to serve only a portion of the sentence. No one who has committed a crime of any nature should be given the undeserved freedom, no matter how well he behaved while in prison. If someone in prison can behave well, why is he in prison in the first place? If this person really knows how to behave well, he should have been behaving well while in the free world.

Hopefully, Baer's family and friends will be able to live with the mistake made by the parole office by releasing Underwood. While Underwood is now free to do anything, to live as a citizen once again, Thomas Baer will never again be able to enjoy those liberties.

 


 

Every day we build a bridge
It may reach anywhere
Across a stream or bed of rocks
No obstacle now there

Today I found a special bridge
That seemed to call to me
Picture perfect structure
Fulfills life's harmony

Walk across this special bridge
Love now gathers there
Compassion and a gentle smile
With friendship we declare

Join me on the other side
Our journey will begin
All will greet as heart repeats
Each step we take we win

No longer are we all alone
We join in peaceful prayer
Hands reach out to fill a space
With loyalty aware

Journey to the other side
With joy we reach the bend
Place our feet upon the earth
Where friendship has no end.


~ Francine Pucillo ~
Šused with permission

 

 

 

 


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