Americus man pleads guilty in 2011 slayings; sentenced to life

CUSSETA, Ga. — An Americus man charged with strangling and stabbing a Chattahoochee County couple before setting their house on fire was sentenced to life Monday after he pleaded guilty to their murders, a defense attorney said.

Dane D. Register was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 30 years for the slayings of Edward and Elaine Baker, who were identified through dental records after their charred bodies were pulled from their Firetower Road home in 2011.

He also was sentenced to five years for possession of a knife during the commission of a crime, which is to be served consecutive with one of his felony murder charges and concurrent with the other, defense attorney Stacey Jackson said.

The court dismissed seven additional charges filed against Register, which included two additional counts of felony murder, two counts of malice murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and arson.

Police initially suspected the blaze that consumed the Bakers' home on Aug. 9, 2011, was caused by lightning. But autopsies showed the couple suffered no smoke inhalation and must have died before the fire.

Authorities later learned Register strangled 68-year-old Edward Baker, a former county road superintendent, and stabbed 67-year-old Elaine Baker, a retired Midtown Medical Center secretary.

Jackson said Register's father claimed his son was innocent during Monday's trial, saying the criminal justice system was untrustworthy. His nephew stated during a previous hearing that Register was with family members the night of the murder, according to a previous Ledger-Enquirer report.

"They were thinking he used to walk the streets up here, but he didn't do it," Nephew Raymond Brown told the Ledger-Enquirer in 2012. "I swear he didn't because he was with me and my family the whole time."

Monday's trial comes after Superior Court Judge Gil McBride ordered Register undergo a psychological evaluation in May. Register told McBride that he heard voices daily and was prone to self harm. He underwent a previous psychological evaluation in April 2012, but told McBride he began hearing voices after that.

Register was released from a two year-long stint in prison two weeks before the Bakers were killed. The Americus native had a long history of assaults on women and mental health issues.

In 2007, Register was accused of stalking a woman at a cosmetics store, where he approached her while masturbating under his clothes.

Another Americus woman reported Register exposed himself to her in a telecommunications shop in 2005. Register trapped the woman behind a desk and prevented the victim from calling for help.

He attempted to rape another Americus woman in 2004, after he accosted her on a walkway and dragged into some bushes. She escaped.

In August 2000, he raped another Americus woman after breaking into her home and beating her. A year prior, he is accused of jumping out of an automobile and allowing it to roll into an Americus police car.

Banished from Americus, Register was living with family in Chattahoochee County at the time of his 2011 release.