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Aug. 25—LONDON — After a two-week jury trial, a man pardoned by former Gov. Matt Bevin was found guilty of murder in federal court on Wednesday.
Patrick Baker, 43, had been found guilty in 2017 in Knox County Circuit Court, following a three-day trial. In that trial, he was charged with the 2014 murder of Donald Mills but the jury found him guilty of the lesser charges of reckless homicide, first-degree robbery, and impersonating a peace officer.
On Tuesday, the jury of nine men and three women began deliberation but after about two and a half hours asked to recess until Wednesday morning. The jury was told to be at the courthouse at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and deliberated about four more hours until the jury delivered the verdict in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in London.
The federal case came after Baker served only two years of his 19-year sentence when during his last days in office, Gov. Bevin pardoned Baker on Dec. 6, 2019 writing, "Patrick Baker is a man who has made a series of unwise decisions in his adult life. His drug addiction resulted in his association with people that in turn led to his arrest, prosecution and conviction of murder."
Baker was then arrested again by United States Marshals on Monday, May 31, of this year — nearly 18 months after being pardoned. The newest federal indictment against Baker charged him with murder during a drug trafficking offense for the fatal shooting of Mills.
Following the pardon, the Courier Journal reported that on July 26, 2018, then Governor Bevin attended a campaign fundraiser at the Corbin home of Eric and Kathryn Baker, Baker's brother and sister-in-law, where they were able to raise over $21,000 for the former governor's campaign. They also reported that Corbin-based businessman Terry Forcht had written a letter in August 2018 and a note on June 4, 2019, requesting Bevin pardon Baker.
According to the Courier Journal, in his note dated June 4, 2019, Forcht wrote, "I would like to renew my recommendation for him to receive a Gubernatorial Pardon. I continue to follow his story and feel he would be a good candidate. I know his family and still feel he has turned his life around."
Before deliberating, the jury heard approximately three hours of closing arguments from both sides.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Reed began her closing arguments by saying Baker was adamant on following through with his plan of robbing Mills of "lots of pills."
Prosecutors say Baker and his accomplice Christopher Wagner, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the death of Mills, wanted to act as law enforcement during the May 9, 2014 robbery of Mills' home. Wagner is said to have rounded up Mills' pregnant wife, children and a friend of the children in one bedroom while Baker dealt with Mills and rounded up the loot. In the end, Reed said Mills was shot and killed and that his family lost a father, husband and son over a baggie of gabapentin and five pills that she said Baker and Wagner split and snorted as they left the scene of the crime.
If Baker wasn't involved in the robbery and killing of Mills, then he must have a case of bad luck, Reed said as she reminded jurors the gun used to kill Mills, a Kel-Tec 9 mm, was owned by Baker and that he had bought it back from a pawn shop just 36 hours before Mills' death. Baker explained during his testimony Friday that he found it easier to stop by a pawn shop and pawn a few items for cash rather than stopping by a bank or an ATM.
Reed used the phone records from Baker's phone to show that just a couple of minutes after buying the gun back, he called Stephanie Smith — the person Baker testified was adamant about robbing Mills just two days prior to his death following a drug transaction between the two, Elijah Messer and Mills.
Reed also reminded jurors of a photograph found on Baker's phone taken of Mills standing outside of Baker's maroon Ford F-150 during the May 7, 2014 transaction. The photo also shows Elijah Messer, who Baker said introduced him to Mills, sitting in the passenger seat. Baker said he had also just met Elijah Messer that day through Smith.
Baker previously testified he took the picture as a way to show someone what Mills looked like should he ever have to send someone to Mills to purchase pills for him in the future. Baker said that although he was taking anywhere from three to five oxycodone pills a day, he still didn't like dealing with the people who sold drugs and preferred when other people would pick them up for him. However as Reed pointed out, in the half-decade of him purchasing and using illegal drugs, Mills was the first distributor Baker had taken a picture of for those purposes. Which she then again jested with the jury, must be due to Baker's bad luck.
Reed said Baker's bad luck must have continued when he and Wagner were spotted at a London Dollar General store seven hours before Mills' death purchasing plastic toy handcuffs amongst other items. Baker said he was purchasing the toy as a gift for the son of a woman he was seeing at the time. Reed reminded the jury plastic handcuffs were found within feet of where Mills was shot.
Reed said it was also unlucky that after leaving the store, Baker and Wagner ended up at Smith's home where she and Baker just happened to be "joking around" on Google Maps and an aerial-view screenshot of Mills' home ended up on Baker's iPad. Baker excused it as his way of proving to Smith he wouldn't be able to find Mills' house again even if he wanted to.
Reed also pointed out that after leaving Smith's home, Baker and Wagner then went to the home of Adam Messer, the brother of Elijah Messer.
On Monday, Adam Messer testified Baker, his brother, and Wagner sat in his living room and joked about robbing Mills just hours before he was killed. He said Baker was showing off the aerial-view photo of Mills' home on his iPad.
But it was the Messers the police looked into first following Mills' death, said Steven Romines, one of Baker's three attorneys, during his closing arguments. Romines also told the jury to consider how both Adam and Elijah Messer had admitted to lying to authorities on more than one occasion throughout this case's seven-year history.
Romines later played an audio clip of an interview between Adam Messer and a detective, in which Adam Messer asked if the detective would help him with his parole officer if he helped bring in an arrest in Mills' case — Messer had just been released from prison, was out on parole and using drugs. Romines also played an audio clip of Elijah Messer testifying in Baker's 2017 circuit court trial where he admitted he had told a lie to cover up all of the other lies he had been telling.
The jury was also reminded of the testimony given by Joshua Spencer on Monday, who said both Adam and Elijah Messer tried to recruit him to rob Mills just days before he was killed. Spencer said he told this to police and that he told police the Messers had planned to pose as law enforcement, a detail Romines said had not been made public at that time. Spencer testified that on the day following Mills' death, his home was also burglarized and a note was left saying, "The same could happen to you." Spencer also said Adam Messer had threatened him in the past and told him he that he had "better watch what he testifies about."
As for the handcuffs, Romines told the jurors DNA testing had been done and that the results excluded Baker. He said no DNA evidence had ever been taken from Adam Messer and then compared to the handcuffs. He also said witnesses said Mills had the shooter in a headlock before he was killed, but that investigators never searched Mills' arms for hair from the shooter, and that they never checked his fingernails for DNA analysis either.
Testimony given by Tristan Hibbard, the friend of Mills' children who was in the home the night he was killed, also pointed at Adam Messer as the killer. Hibbard said he thought the guy's name was Adam that robbed the Mills' home that night and told police the shooter had a skull and crossbones tattooed on his arm. Adam Messer has that tattoo, Baker doesn't have any visible tattoos. Romines also highlighted inconsistencies provided by witnesses, such as Donald Mills' mother, Phyllis Mills, saying the skinnier of the two men she encountered on the morning her son was shot had brown eyes and brown hair. Baker has blue eyes. Phyllis Mills testified that she was in shock when she first told police the man had brown eyes and hair, but she was certain now that he had strawberry-blonde shoulder-length hair.
Romines told the jury Baker had never been in trouble before he was accused or robbing and killing Mills. He reminded the jury that none of the witnesses that testified during the trial said anything about Baker losing his temper or asking them to lie for him. He said after police decided Baker was Mills' killer, they did whatever they could to make the evidence prove their theory and said some of the witnesses were now doing the same, too.
Reed responded to Romines' claims during her rebuttal reminding the jury both Donald Mills and his mother had known the Messers for years. Reed said Phyllis Mills would have recognized Adam Messer standing on her son's porch. She said Donald Mills would have recognized Adam Messer, but Phyllis Mills testified her son told her he didn't recognize his shooter just before succumbing to his injuries.
Reed told the jury the government had not conspired with Adam Messer to frame Baker for Mills' death. She said it would have been much easier for police to charge the "poor kid from the Creek with a criminal record" for Mills' death than it was for them to charge Baker.
Baker is scheduled to appear for before the court for sentencing on December 21. He faces up to life in prison.