NEWTON - The man suspected of killing a 19-year-old two years ago was in a Catawba County courtroom Monday. He is charged with first-degree murder.
With a noticeably shorter haircut than the one in his previously published mug shot, John Lee Mitchell Jr. walked into the courtroom wearing a lime green jumpsuit for his first court appearance.
Mitchell, 46, is charged in the death of Travis Lee Baker, who was last seen alive April 16, 2007, in the Bunker Hill community.
Just prior to Mitchell's arrival in the courtroom, Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman came in. He remained in the room to watch the proceedings.
Mitchell stood quietly, and did not look over at the crowd. He spoke only to say Lisa Dubs was his attorney on a temporary basis. She represents Mitchell through his next court date, which is July 20. Mitchell requested a court-appointed attorney.
In addition to a shorter haircut, Mitchell also had a brace on his right wrist. Chief Deputy Coy Reid with the Catawba County Sheriff's Office said Mitchell had the brace on his arm in Florida, but declined to provide additional information on Mitchell's injury.
Baker's parents, godparents and other family members and friends came to watch the proceedings.
One of them was Baker's godfather, Jerry Sigmon. His family was especially close to Baker's. In addition to being Baker's godfather, Sigmon's son and Baker were close friends.
He remembers Baker as someone who was outgoing, who liked to play football and baseball and go fishing.
Baker was like Sigmon's own child, he said, adding the entire ordeal has been difficult on Baker's family and friends.
"It's been two years, two months and 11 days," he said. "We just want to give him the proper burial he deserves and the respect he needs."
Sigmon said that's been hard for him.
He said ending the search for Baker is the closure of one chapter.
"It's bittersweet," Sigmon said. "Travis was buried like a dog. It's good that we found him, but the anger's still there."
Baker's family held numerous searches for the missing teen throughout the county and region, searching for any signs of him or his candy apple red Camaro. They put up posters of Baker throughout the community shortly after his disappearance, as well as a few billboards. The family also held a vigil on the anniversary of his disappearance the last two years, remembering Baker and begging for anyone with information on Baker to contact authorities.
On June 19, investigators with the Catawba County Sheriff's Office received new information on the case, directing them to a field behind a home in Catawba where Baker might be buried. Baker's body was located in a hole covered with wood on June 22, along with textiles and a car bumper thought to be from his Camaro.
Authorities had enough information to take out an arrest warrant on Mitchell, who was in Winter Garden, Fla. Mitchell did not waive extradition, and was brought back to Catawba County over the weekend.
Sigmon said the Baker family is working to take things one day at a time, and hoping things go well in court.
"As long as he (Mitchell) gets a fair trial, so be it," Sigmon said. "As long as things are proven in a court of law, we'll be satisfied."