December 5th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Baker, No. 98,498, the Court followed up its decision in Anderson by despatching another case in which a convicted murderer sought to have his conviction overturned because the jury at his trial was not instructed on the law governing the defense of compulsion. This was another unanimous decision, authored by Justice Nuss. Carl Baker, a hobo on the run from the law, aided fellow vagrant Charles Hollingsworth in the killing of David Owen at a homeless camp in the woods near the Topeka Rescue Mission. Owen, was an activist who tried to persuade the homeless to return to society, and who had in the past destroyed other homeless camps to disrupt their inhabitants lifestyles as part of this campaign. Following an altercation in the camp, Hollingsworth and Baker took Owen out of the camp, tied him to a tree with a rope rigged to asphyxiate him and left him to die.
The trial court refused to instruct the jury on Baker’s claim that he acted as he did out of fear of what Hollingsworth would do to him otherwise. Baker appealed, arguing his absolute right to make his own defense. The Supreme Court rejects his appeal because (based on the circumstances of the crime) no rational factfinder would agree with his theory even when looking upon the facts in the light most favourable to him. These included:
- Baker’s possession of a machete throughout the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself.
- The fact that others removed themselves from the crime, and in one case the camp without incident.
- Baker’s returning to the scene of the crime to help dispose of the body.
- Opportunities which presented themselves for Baker to elude Hollingsworth.
The Court also rejected three other arguments made by Baker:
- That the use of photographs of Owen’s body were prejudicial (the Court ruled that they were relevant to the medical testimony about cause of death in the trial).
- That the prosecutor was guilty of misconduct for using a sports team analogy for ‘aiding and abetting’ which implied mere presence was enough to convict. (Rejected on the context of these within the rest of the prosecutors remarks)
- That Baker’s sentence enhancements taking into account past convictions violated the US Supreme Court’s Apprendi decision. (Rejected with a two sentence reference to established Kansas case law on this point).
Baker will continue to serve his 20 year (minimum) life sentence, followed by 233 months for kidnapping. Fortunately, Baker is 62 years old and will most likely die in prison.