A convicted killer who has been pardoned plans to hold a Kentucky press conference Tuesday amid backlash over the former governor’s decision to pardon him after the man served less than two years for a conviction on reckless homicide and other charges.
Patrick Baker will be joined by his attorneys in Lexington in an effort to outline evidence they insist exonerates him, and in the process fend off accusations that former Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned Mr. Baker because he is the brother of a Bevin fundraiser.
Mr. Baker’s pardon has been the most politically high-profile one of hundreds Mr. Bevin, a Republican defeated in his re-election bid last month, issued as he was leaving office. Recent Kentucky governors issued roughly 100 or so pardons or commissions as their terms ended, but Mr. Bevin issued a flurry of more than 400, according to the Courier-Journal.
“We’re not denying Mr. Baker was convicted, or that jurors believed he was guilty,” said Elliot Slosar, an attorney with the Chicago-based Loevy & Loevy, which bills itself as one of the nation’s premier civil rights firms. “We are saying he was wrongly convicted and that evidence shows Mr. Baker was not the shooter and was not at the scene.”
The scene Mr. Slosar referred to was a 2014 home invasion in Knox County, by four people Mr. Slosar said were masked and local reports said were “impersonating U.S. marshals and demanding money and drugs.” During the crime, homeowner Donald Mills was shot. He died in the presence of his wife and children.
A jury convicted Mr. Baker in November 2017 for reckless homicide, first degree robbery, tampering with evidence and impersonating a police officer. He was sentenced the following month to 19 years in prison.
Another man, Elijah Messer, was convicted in July 2018 for his part in the crime, while a third man, Christopher Wagner, pleaded guilty. Attorneys for those men insist the jury got it right in convicting Mr. Baker and have implied their clients lacked the financial power of Mr. Baker. It was not clear if they had sought pardons for their clients.
Overall, defense attorneys did a poor job both presenting evidence at trial and uncovering a trail of misconduct by Kentucky State Police officers charged with investigating the case, Mr. Slosar told The Washington Times.
In particular, DNA on handcuffs found at the scene and linked to the shooter do not match Mr. Baker’s, according to his defense, and two eyewitnesses described the gunman as having brown eyes and a tattoo on his bicep, neither of which are true of Mr. Baker.
Kentucky State Police officers Bryan Johnson and Jason York are currently defendants in two federal lawsuits that accuse them of multiple incidents of misconduct in terms of how they handled witnesses.
Sgt. Josh Lawson, public affairs commander for the Kentucky State Police, said he was unaware of any past allegations of misconduct against Officers York and Johnson.
But he noted no specific charges of misconduct were ever leveled against either officer in Mr. Baker’s case, which he said was subjected to repeated reviews both within the department and the governor’s office.
The Courier-Journal and Democratic lawmakers in Frankfort have demanded newly elected Attorney General Daniel Cameron investigate Mr. Baker’s pardon, which they say reeks of political corruption. Mr. Cameron has not announced a decision in the matter.
An investigation is needed, they say, because Mr. Baker’s brother and sister-in-law were campaign donors to Mr. Bevin and last year hosted a fundraiser that pulled in $21,500.
Like an acquittal, a governor’s pardon cannot be rescinded, so Mr. Baker does not face the prospect of returning to prison. But Mr. Slosar said the allegation the pardon was given as a political favor rather than to right an injustice should not stand.
In a statement, Mr. Baker defended himself.
“I did not kill Donald Mills and my family did not pay for my release,” Mr. Baker said, noting he hoped “the true killer of Donald Mills is ultimately apprehended and that the Mills’ family get closure in the end by having the right person in prison.”
In fact, the Mills family believed Mr. Baker and the others were “the right people” and they have expressed outrage at the pardon.
• James Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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