HOUSTON - A Houston-area woman serving nearly four decades in prison for killing two teens and critically injuring a man during a drunken driving crash is appealing her conviction.
Court documents reveal Nicole Baukus claims that despite the evidence that led to her conviction, she was not the person driving the pickup that caused the deadly collision.
"There is every suggestion that the physical evidence was tampered with at the scene," said Baukus' attorney, Randy Schaffer.
"Are you alleging that police planted evidence in this case?" Channel 2 investigator Robert Arnold asked.
"That is one of the allegations," Schaffer said.
In June 2012, surveillance cameras at a Woodland's area bar show a teetering Baukus enjoying the night before stumbling alone into the parking lot. An hour later, traffic cameras captured Baukus' truck heading the wrong way on I-45. Baukus' truck then slams into a car, killing Travis Saunders, 18, and Nicole Adams, 19, and critically injuring 22-year-old David Porras.
Prosecutors said Baukus downed 21 drinks in four hours. Prosecutors also said her DNA was on the driver's airbag and steering wheel, and her left shoe was wedged on the driver's floorboard, along with her bloody sock.
Baukus at first told officers a man was driving her truck, then said her dad, before eventually stating she was the driver.
Baukus initially pleaded not guilty, at first claiming she had been drugged. During the trial, she changed her plea to guilty and was sentenced to 38 years in prison. Baukus must serve 19 years before she is eligible for parole.
"This was an appropriate sentence for what she did; when she laughed at the hospital, when she laughed at the scene," Montgomery County prosecutor Andrew James said following the conclusion of the trial in 2013.
Schaffer said his tampering allegations stem from dash cam video recorded by the first officer to arrive at the crash.
"She's standing in the roadway and appears to be wearing two tennis shoes," Schaffer said. "When the photos are taken of the interior of the car, both shoes and the bloody left sock are there."
Watch the dashcam video here (**Editor’s note: The zoom in, zoom out motion on the video was done by defense counsel and not KPRC**)
Schaffer questions how the shoes and sock got into the truck; evidence that helped prosecutors put her behind the wheel. The first two officers to arrive at the crash also stated that when they approached Baukus, who was outside of her truck, they noticed she was only wearing one shoe and sock.
"If they can't put somebody behind the wheel of a vehicle, nobody gets prosecuted for two deaths and a third bad injury," Schaffer said.
Schaffer said recent DNA tests show male DNA on Baukus' shoes and sock.
"From all indications, at least one male handled both shoes and that left sock," Schaffer said.
Schaffer claims the presence of Baukus' DNA on the driver's airbag came from someone placing the sock in the truck. He also said Baukus' differing stories about who was driving was a product of disorientation from alcohol and the crash. Schaffer declined to allow KPRC to interview Baukus in prison; she stated she does not remember the events surrounding the crash.
"Nicole, to my understanding, is the only one who is there when the officers pull up. So how is that she was not driving?" Arnold asked.
"Well, she is the only one who is still in her truck," Schaffer said.
Click here to read Schaffer's claims.
"The allegations that are being made are very concerning," prosecutor Warren Diepraam said.
Diepraam was one of the prosecutors who put Baukus in prison. He now works for a different district attorney's office. While he said he is concerned, he is far from convinced there was misconduct.
"I kind of have difficulty with that concept, that they were planted," Diepraam said.
Diepraam admits the video raises serious questions, but said it is not clear cut that Baukus was wearing both shoes and socks, especially since the images are captured at a distance in a darkened setting.
"Videos rarely represent everything that is going on, especially with light distortions and with quality control of the images," Diepraam said.
He also said if a shoe or sock was put in the truck, it was likely a product of crash scenes, even fatal ones, not always being treated like other crime scenes.
"They're handled like accident scenes with people literally traipsing all over the evidence," Diepraam said.
The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office is hitting back against these claims. In a detailed rebuttal, prosecutors write there were numerous witnesses at the crash and no one at the reported seeing anyone putting anything in Baukus' truck. There were no reports of anyone seen running from the truck and the officers had no prior connection to Baukus or the victims and therefore had no motive to plant evidence. Prosecutors also argue there is no evidence Baukus met up with anyone in the hour between leaving the bar alone and the crash.
Both of the first officers to arrive at the crash have since given sworn statements they never touched Baukus shoes or sock.
"This novel claim is a transparent attempt to get out of prison," prosecutors write.
Baukus' other attempts to appeal her conviction have failed and family members of the victims tell KPRC this latest appeal only exacerbates the pain they’ve already suffered.
"My prayers are with all of the families and friends of the victims of this nightmare crash," wrote Michelle Chisum, Saunders mother. "I will continue to pray for resolution as I scrub my 18-year-old son's grave until the day I die."
"It is unimaginable to us that we may have to undergo the entire judicial process again for a crime for which the perpetrator has already plead guilty. We will be following the appeal closely and we expect that the people of Montgomery County and the greater Houston area will be outraged to learn of the accusations against the hard working members of our law enforcement community and the cost in tax dollars that will result from this unnecessary and unjust appeal," read a statement from the Porras family.
A judge has yet to decide whether a hearing will be granted to examine Baukus' claims.
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