Looking to past to avert execution

Defense says rape of Baker's mother should be mitigating factor in sentence

December 02, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

His legal team knew before the trial began. The social worker assisting with his case knew even earlier.

But no one told Wesley Eugene Baker the circumstances that led to his birth until after he had been convicted of murder and hours before a judge heard testimony to decide whether he should be sentenced to death. Baker's mother became pregnant with him after being raped. She was 12 or 13 at the time.

Baker's lawyers wanted the judge who would decide his fate to be told about the rape, and the abusive childhood and neglectful upbringing that followed. But Baker would not hear of it, even though such "mitigating factors" can mean the difference between life in prison or death.

Days before the 47-year-old Baltimore man is scheduled to be executed, his current lawyers are focusing on what was left unsaid at that sentencing hearing in their efforts to have his death sentence overturned by the courts or commuted by the governor. They argue that a decision as important as who should be called to testify in a client's defense is not for the accused to make and that the failure of Baker's original attorneys to present evidence of his upbringing amounted to depriving him of his constitutional right to effective legal representation.

"Counsel's performance in this trial was woefully inadequate and was the functional equivalent of personally driving Mr. Baker to death row," Baker's current lawyers wrote in a pair of legal challenges pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In a rare interview, Baker's mother, Delores Williams, told The Sun that there is much about her eldest son's upbringing that helps to explain how he ended up in the parking lot of Westview Mall on June 6, 1991, where, prosecutors say, he held a gun to the head of a frightened grandmother, shot her and took her purse.

"He was learning things from all kinds of people on the street," Williams, 61, said of her son's childhood. "That was more his first family than I was. It was almost like being homeless."

Baker is scheduled to be executed next week for the murder of Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide. His lawyers failed yesterday to convince a federal judge that his execution should be postponed because the drugs used in lethal injection cause unnecessary pain. He has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review other appeals.

Prosecutors say that the issues regarding Baker's childhood have been litigated - in a 1993 motion to modify his sentence and in subsequent post-conviction proceedings - and that death penalty law requires a careful weighing of a defendant's family history, not complete deference to it.

`Who's to say?'

"I've seen death penalty defendants from all kinds of backgrounds," said S. Ann Brobst, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County who tried the Baker case. "And obviously, everyone who's had a rotten childhood doesn't become a cold-blooded killer either. So who's to say?"

Through his lawyers, Baker declined to be interviewed for this article. But what emerges from interviews with his mother and lawyers as well as 200 pages of affidavits, investigative reports, court filings and commutation petitions, is the life story of a man whose abuse- and drug-riddled childhood led seamlessly to a life of worse and worse crimes.

"There is no excuse for the murder of Jane Tyson. Her death and the grief to which her family was plunged cannot be excused," Baker's lawyers wrote in a commutation petition delivered this week to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s legal counsel. "In the years they have represented Mr. Baker, however, counsel have come to realize that the horror of this case can be explained in substantial part - not excused - by the terrible things that shaped the child who became, on the worst day of his life, one of the killers of Jane Tyson."

Baker was born March 26, 1958, to Williams, who was living with her parents in West Baltimore. The family called the baby Eugene.

"I wasn't a mother. I was too young to be a mother," Williams said.

Williams said she paid little attention to her son before her mother died in 1961. Before Baker was 5, at least two teenage girls from the neighborhood lured the boy out of his grandfather's yard with the promise of candy and led him to an abandoned house where they sexually abused him, according to reports compiled by Lori James-Monroe, the social worker who assisted Baker's original attorneys and did further investigation in 2001 at the request of his current lawyers.

Matthew Mendel, a psychologist specializing in childhood trauma who reviewed Baker's family history for the defense, cautioned against "an easy tendency" to trivialize or minimize such sexual abuse suffered by young boys.

"I would encourage all those involved in this case to imagine the scenario with the genders reversed," he wrote in a report about Baker's case.

When Baker was 8 or 9, his mother began dating a heroin-addicted railroad worker who had been in prison. He physically and emotionally abused Baker and her, Williams said.

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