Joshua Baker, the Halfway man whose case was returned to Baker County last week for possible retrial after he had served 2 years of a nearly 19-year sentence on a sex abuse conviction, has been released from jail after accepting a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office.
Baker, 43, pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon in Baker County Circuit Court to the charge of attempting to commit the Class B felony of first-degree sexual abuse. In pleading to the charge of attempt, he was convicted of a Class C felony.
Two other counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of unlawful sexual penetration — which were dismissed during Baker’s February 2018 trial — were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Judge Lung Hung of Malheur County, as stipulated by the agreement, sentenced Baker to five years’ probation.
Should Baker fail to comply with the terms of his probation, he would face three more years in prison, with no credit for time served.
Baker was returned to the Baker County Jail on May 28 to be retried on three counts of first-degree sexual abuse because of a nonunanimous (10-2) verdict rendered by the jury during his trial.
Judge Greg Baxter, who has since retired, sentenced Baker to three consecutive mandatory minimum 75-month prison terms, a total of 18 years and 9 months.
But in April of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nonunanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional. Baker’s conviction was overturned and his case sent back to Baker County for possible retrial. Oregon was the last state to continue using the nonunanimous verdict system when the Supreme Court issued its decision.
During a Wednesday morning hearing, Judge Hung had denied Baker’s request for release from jail on his own recognizance and had ordered him held on $150,000 bail, with release possible upon posting $15,000.
The plea agreement was reached later that day. Baker was represented by Rob Raschio, a Canyon City attorney.
District Attorney Greg Baxter, the retired judge’s son, stated in a press release Thursday that upon learning that Baker’s case would be remanded to Baker County for retrial because of the Supreme Court ruling, he spoke with the victim, her attorney and other witnesses.
“The fact the events occurred five years ago, the fading of memories, rulings by the Oregon Court of Appeals affecting the evidence that could be offered, and, most of all, the trauma to the victim and witnesses in a retrial were all considered in deciding to retry the case or not,” Baxter stated in the press release.
Raschio said in a telephone interview Thursday that the plea agreement took into account that the victim, who is Baker’s daughter, and her sisters, are in a safe place. They are in guardianship through the Department of Human Services foster care system.
“There is no particular reason for them to be put through another trial,” Raschio said.
Baxter also stated in a telephone interview Thursday that he and the victim agreed that the settlement provided a guaranteed conviction rather than taking a chance at trial where Baker could be acquitted.
“It gives us what we need to ensure the protection of the girls,” Baxter said.
Along with the additional prison time Baker faces if he fails to comply with terms of probation, his sentence requires that he register as a lifetime sex offender and enroll in and successfully complete a state-approved sex offender treatment program.
Other special conditions of Baker’s probation order him to have no contact with his daughters without permission of his probation officer. And he was ordered to pay all counseling, therapy treatment or medical costs related to the offense. Baker also was fined $200 and ordered to have no contact with any children under the age of 18 without prior approval of his probation officer or the court.
During the week-long trial in February 2018, Raschio had filed motions requiring that Baker could be convicted only by a unanimous jury verdict. Judge Baxter denied those motions.
The judge agreed with then-district attorney Matt Shirtcliff — who replaced Baxter as Baker County Circuit Court judge — who argued that at the time a nonunanimous verdict was allowed by Oregon law.
Looking back to the trial, Raschio pointed out that two people on the jury had reasonable doubt and could not vote to find Baker guilty of the crimes. He appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals on April 10, 2018.
“I’m glad the Supreme Court now has come to the place where it says you have to have unanimity of mind to convict,” Raschio said.
He noted that Baker had been sent to prison for 18 years and 9 months on a 10-2 verdict.
“This is a man who served his country in two foreign wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome,” Raschio said. “He is entitled to some consideration for what he provided to this country.”
Baker’s mother also is terminally ill, Raschio said.
“This is what happens when these cases return after bad verdicts,” he said. “There is a true human story behind all of this.”
Before Baker’s 2018 sentencing, Raschio had filed motions seeking a new trial or a directed verdict of mistrial based on what he argued had been due process violations during the trial.
He also sought a concurrent (served all at the same time) 75-month sentence on the three convictions.
During the trial, Judge Baxter agreed with Shircliff’s argument that Baker should serve consecutive sentences on the crimes, based on the vulnerability of the victim. Baker knew that his daughter, who was 13 at the time he was accused of sexually assaulting her, had been sexually abused by her stepgrandfather, Loren Profitt, when she was 9 years old, Shirtcliff said.
Profitt was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in 2012 in a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office. Shirtcliff said during Baker’s trial that the state would have sought more prison time for Profitt had the girl been older and more capable of testifying.
District Attorney Baxter said Thursday that had Baker originally been sentenced to concurrent 75-month terms, rather than consecutive terms, he could end up serving about the same amount of time in prison if he fails to comply with terms of his probation over the next five years.
Baker had served one year in the Baker County Jail awaiting trial and little more than two years of his prison sentence at the Snake River Correctional Institution near Ontario before his case was reversed and remanded to Baker County.