CUSSETA, Ga. -- A grand jury in Chattahoochee County has indicted a man on arson and murder charges in the August 2011 killings of Edward and Elaine Baker. Prosecutors say they may seek the death penalty against Dane D. Register, a 32-year-old with a lengthy history of criminal activity and mental health problems.
An Americus, Ga., native, Register had been released from prison about two weeks before the murders, and he was living with family here because he had been banished from the Southwestern Judicial Circuit.
The 10-count indictment, handed down last week, revealed new details of a horrific crime that shocked this tight-knit community. The deaths initially had been blamed on a lightning strike and house fire, but Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents descended on the Bakers' home at the outset of their autopsies.
The indictment charges Register with strangling 68-year-old Edward Baker, saying the former road superintendent's hyoid bone was rendered "useless" by aggravated battery.
Register also is accused of stabbing and choking Elaine Baker, a 67-year-old retired secretary at The Medical Center.
The arson charges stem from an Aug. 9, 2011, blaze that consumed the Bakers' Firetower Road home.
The couple were burned so badly investigators had to use dental records to confirm their identities.
Authorities have released few details about the case, but court records show Register was charged after the GBI linked him to the crime through DNA evidence.
He was arrested last October.
Register is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on Oct. 15, but Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly said scheduling in the case could change if the state decides to seek capital punishment.
Kelly said Thursday he expects District Attorney Julia Slater to make that decision soon.
A family member of the Bakers declined to comment.
Register has denied the charges, and his family claims he has an alibi. "They were thinking he used to walk the streets up here, but he didn't do it," Register's nephew, Raymond Brown, told the Ledger-Enquirer earlier this year. "I swear he didn't because he was with me and my family the whole time."
Before his banishment from Americus, Register had a history there of assaulting women.
In a 2000 case, he was charged with breaking into a home and beating, raping and biting a woman.
"Everybody around here was and is very familiar with Dane Register," Plez H. Hardin, the district attorney of the Southwestern Judicial Circuit, said in an interview earlier this year. "He's just somebody that you don't forget."