A Kentucky man pardoned in a state homicide case but later convicted in federal court over the same murder has been sentenced to 39 years and six months in prison.
Patrick Baker, 43, was sentenced in federal court in London on Tuesday in a case that caused an uproar in state politics.
Baker’s lawyers had argued in a motion he should not get a sentence of more than 19 years, the same as he had in state court in the earlier case, but U.S. District Judge Claria Horn Boom rejected that position.
Boom sentenced Baker to 42 years in prison, but gave him credit for the 30 months he served in state custody before he was pardoned.
Boom could have sentenced Baker to life in prison, but took into account his lack of criminal history before he shot and killed Donald Mills in May 2014 during a botched robbery attempt.
Boom said she did not believe Baker went to Mills’ house with the intent to kill him. She also noted his drug problem, saying Baker was a “significant danger to the community under the grip of addiction.”
Boom said Baker’s crime was “especially heinous because you took a man’s life and kept his family hostage.”
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Reed, sought a life sentence for Baker, arguing he planned the robbery and continued with the crime even after going inside Mills’ home and seeing a small child.
“He did not have to rob and murder Donald Mills,” Reed said of Baker. “Donald Mills did not have to be gunned down in front of his family.”
Baker’s defense attorneys asked Boom to spare him a life sentence, however.
“Give Mr. Baker some hope,” one of Baker’s attorneys, Patrick J. Renn, said to the judge.
Mills’ widow and sister spoke during the hearing Tuesday. His sister, Melinda Mills, said in a shaky voice that “our family is forever broken.”
There is no parole in the federal court system so Baker will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
Boom also ordered Baker to pay $7,500 in restitution for expenses for Mills’ funeral.
Baker’s attorneys have said he will appeal the conviction.
But the sentencing ends one phase of the case, which started more than seven years ago when two men went to the home of Mills, who trafficked in pain pills in Knox County, intending to rob him of money and drugs.
The robbery went wrong; one of the gunmen shot Mills, 29, twice in the chest as the other kept his pregnant wife, his two sons and one of their friends in another room of the mobile home.
The two men fled. Mills bled to death as his wife and mother rushed him to meet an ambulance.
Kentucky State Police arrested Baker soon after, and a state-court jury convicted him on charges of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a police officer and tampering with evidence.
A judge sentenced him to 19 years in prison in December 2017.
In upholding the conviction, a three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals said that “there can be no doubt, on review of the proof as a whole, evidence of Baker’s guilt was overwhelming.”
Just two years later, however, then-Gov. Matt Bevin commuted Baker’s sentence and pardoned him, saying in the order that the evidence against him was “sketchy at best.”
The decision was among hundreds of pardons and commutations that Bevin, a Republican, issued at the end of his term, but the pardon for Baker was one of several that caused bitter controversy.
The reason was that Baker’s brother and sister-in-law had held a political fundraiser for Bevin in 2018 that netted $21,500 to pay down debt left over from his campaign for governor.
Two Democrats in the state legislature charged that there was an “appearance of corruption” in the pardon, and Republican lawmakers slammed the pardons for Baker and others as “a travesty and perversion of justice.”
Bevin denied that politics motivated him to let Baker out of prison, but authorities have looked into the fundraiser.
An FBI task force officer testified that investigators interviewed Dawn Turner, Baker’s ex-girlfriend, about the fundraiser and pardon.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives opened a new investigation of Baker, resulting in an indictment accusing him of murdering Mills while committing a drug crime.
Baker’s attorneys argued the case violated Baker’s right not to be punished twice for the same crime — called double jeopardy — but Boom rejected the argument.
Boom said the law allowed two different sovereign governments — the U.S. and the state — to prosecute a person based on the same conduct, and that the federal indictment alleged a different crime than the state charges.
The pardon for Baker was not an issue in the federal case. Boom ruled that attorneys could not mention his state conviction or pardon.
But the jury had to choose between very different stories.
One witness, Nathan Wagoner, testified that Baker, addicted to pain pills and needing money, tried to recruit him to rob a drug dealer.
Another witness, Christopher Wagner, said he accompanied Baker to Mills’ house to help with the robbery in hopes of getting hundreds of pills and perhaps $200,000 cash.
Wagner said Baker had an idea to pose as police officers in order to keep down trouble during the robbery; that Baker kicked open the door of Mills’ house and took Mills to a back bedroom while Wagner held other family members in a separate room; that he heard shots from the other bedroom; and that as they fled in Baker’s pickup truck, Baker said Mills had pulled a gun and Baker had to shoot him.
Wagner said he helped Baker dispose of a pistol at an abandoned coal mine in Bell County. He later took police to the site, where they recovered pieces of the 9mm pistol and traced the ownership to Baker.
Baker’s ex-wife also testified that he told her he killed Mills.
Baker, however, flatly denied being involved in the crime, testifying that his ex-wife was mistaken and that other witnesses lied.
Baker said a convicted felon who lived near Mills, Adam Messer, took Baker’s truck and gun and and killed Mills.
Baker said he didn’t report Messer because he was concerned Messer would hurt him or people close to him, and defense attorneys argued that Messer implicated Baker in the crime to turn suspicion from himself.
Jurors rejected Baker’s defense, convicting him after a little over six hours of deliberation.
“The simple truth of this case is that Patrick Baker was found guilty of planning and committing an armed home invasion, to acquire drugs, where he shot and killed Donald Mills,” U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier, IV said in a news release. “Baker was convicted of a brazen act of violence — one that resulted in a murder, committed while the victim’s family was nearby.”