Arrest made in 2001 murder of University of Georgia law school student

May 11, 2024, 9:46 AM | Updated: 9:47 am

Loved ones of Tara Louise Baker honored her in Athens, Georgia, with a flower memorial on January 2...

Loved ones of Tara Louise Baker honored her in Athens, Georgia, with a flower memorial on January 20, 2021. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Jones/Athens Banner-Herald/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource

(CNN) — More than two decades after authorities discovered a University of Georgia law student’s body at her apartment, where they say a fire was set intentionally, a man has been arrested and charged in connection with the cold case.

Tara Louise Baker was found dead in her Athens, Georgia, home by Athens-Clarke County firefighters on January 19, 2001, a day before her 24th birthday, according to a news release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

On Thursday, state and county investigators said Edrick Lamont Faust, 48, was arrested and faced several charges in connection with Baker’s death, including felony murder, aggravated assault, arson and aggravated sodomy, the news release says.

Faust, a resident of Athens, remains in jail on a $15,000 bond, according to Clarke County Sheriff’s Office jail records. CNN could not determine whether Faust has an attorney.

“Tara Louise Baker was a hardworking student with a bright future ahead of her,” GBI director Chris Hosey said in a statement. “Tara’s life was stolen from her in a horrific act of violence.”

Baker, a first-year law student from East Point, Georgia, was last seen alive by a friend at the UGA Law School Library on January 18, 2001, around 7:30 p.m., according to GBI’s unsolved homicide webpage on the case.

Authorities say Baker, while still at the library, called the same friend around 9:46 p.m. to make sure they had arrived home safely. Baker told her friend she planned to leave the library around 10 p.m.

The homicide investigation into Baker’s death ran cold for 23 years.

The GBI’s Cold Case Unit partnered with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in September 2023 “to conduct an in-depth review and analysis of the ongoing investigation into Baker’s death,” according to the news release.

Athens-Clarke County police chief Jerry Saulters, who was an officer at the crime scene in January 2001, said in a statement that he’d hoped for years Baker’s family would find justice.

“I remember being there during that horrific time,” Saulters said. “Seeing this case now full circle, I appreciate the hard work of the detectives, from then and now. Knowing that the evidence collected at that time contributed to the arrest today gives me tremendous pride in all the officers who worked this case over the years.”

2023 act named for Baker helps her case

The Baker family says they have long waited for an arrest announcement, but “it is not a day without grief and unanswered questions,” they said in a statement provided by Athens true crime podcast host Cameron Jay Harrelson, who covered the student’s story in a series on the Classic City Crime podcast.

“Our family is eternally grateful to the Cold Case Unit with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation for their dedication and diligence in bringing us closer to the truth that has eluded us for 23 years,” the family’s statement read.

Harrelson, who connected with Baker’s family four years ago through a mutual friend with Baker’s sister, said the family has long advocated for progress in the cold case.

“A mother’s heart never gives up, she never gave up on seeking the truth,” Harrelson told CNN of Virginia Baker, Tara Louise Baker’s mother.

The late law student, who in May 2003 was posthumously awarded her law degree from UGA’s School of Law, is remembered by family, friends, colleagues and classmates as a “champion of justice” who was “fiercely loyal,” according to Harrelson, who said he interviewed hundreds of those who knew Baker for the podcast series.

“She believed in the application of the law. She believed in fighting for people that were less fortunate or whose society might consider to be underdogs, or the left behind and forgotten,” Harrelson said.

“I’ve heard many stories of how she was never afraid to say what she felt, but always with kindness,” he added.

Georgia’s Coleman-Baker Act, which established a new cold case unit within the GBI, according to CNN affiliate WRDW, was passed last year and named in honor of Baker and Rhonda Sue Coleman, an 18-year-old high school student who was killed in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, in 1990.

Harrelson says he along with the Baker and Coleman families advocated for the law.

“We did not have any knowledge that this bill would ever affect change for the Baker family themselves,” Harrelson said. “The way we spoke about it often was that even if this doesn’t help Tara’s case, there are countless families out there that with a second look, (the bill) could help.”

He added: “I could not have thought of a better way to honor Tara Baker’s life and legacy, a legacy of fighting for justice and believing in the law, than for this bill to have not only been named after her but to have brought about justice for her.”

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Arrest made in 2001 murder of University of Georgia law school student