In Memory of
Murdered August 21, 1988
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. He
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
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
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
No obstacle now there
Today I found a special
That seemed to call to me
Fulfills life's harmony
this special bridge
Love now gathers there
Compassion and a
With friendship we declare
Join me on the
Our journey will begin
All will greet as heart
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
With joy we reach the bend
Place our feet upon the
Where friendship has no end.
Šused with permission
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