Witness believed political fundraiser was ‘crucial’ to pardon of Kentucky inmate

·4 min read

The ex-girlfriend of a Kentucky inmate pardoned by Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019 told authorities she believed a political fundraiser the man’s family held was “crucial” to getting him released.

The woman, Dawn Turner, said during an interview with federal and state investigators last December that she believed the purpose of the fundraiser was to influence Bevin to give Patrick Baker a pardon.

Bevin has adamantly denied that contributions played a role in him granting Baker a pardon, but the fundraiser has made Baker’s release especially controversial among the hundreds of pardons and commutations Bevin granted to prisoners in the final days of his term in December 2019.

A jury convicted Baker, now 43, of reckless homicide in the death of a Knox County drug dealer shot in the chest as two men tried to rob him of money and pain pills. Police charged that Baker was one of two men involved in the home invasion.

He also was convicted of robbery, impersonating a police officer and tampering with physical evidence for allegedly disposing of the homicide weapon.

A judge sentenced Baker to 19 years in prison in December 2017, but just two years later, Bevin, a Republican, commuted the sentence and pardoned him.

Baker, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, applied for a pardon in early July 2018. In late July, his brother and sister-in-law hosted a fundraiser for Bevin at their home in Corbin.

The event raised $21,500 to retire the debt from Bevin’s 2015 campaign, according to state records.

State officials of both parties, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, asked federal authorities to investigate Bevin’s pardons, particularly the one for Patrick Baker.

The FBI has not publicly acknowledged an investigation, but information in a new federal case against Baker indicates federal and state authorities questioned Turner about the fundraiser last December.

The interview involved FBI agents and an investigator from the Attorney General’s Office, according to court testimony from Mark Mefford, an officer on an FBI task force.

Mefford testified during a June 22 hearing that the only reason for interviewing Turner in December was to discuss the fundraiser and Baker’s pardon.

Turner said Baker’s parents approached her about attending the fundraiser, according to a summary of the December 2020 interview.

Turner was his fiancee at the time, but that relationship ended before the 2020 FBI interview.

Turner had written a letter to Bevin in support of a pardon, describing him as a loving father figure to her two children, including an autistic son she said had shown great improvement with Baker’s nurturing.

In the 2020 interview, Turner said she thought Baker’s parents wanted her at the fundraiser so Bevin would see her autistic son and it would make him more sympathetic to letting Baker out of prison.

Patrick Baker, left, who was convicted in a 2014 homicide, stood with attorney Elliot Slosar, right, on Dec. 17, 2019, as he talked about being pardoned by former Governor Matt Bevin, resulting in his early release from prison.
Patrick Baker, left, who was convicted in a 2014 homicide, stood with attorney Elliot Slosar, right, on Dec. 17, 2019, as he talked about being pardoned by former Governor Matt Bevin, resulting in his early release from prison.

Turner said she believed most people would have known the purpose of the event was to influence Bevin.

Baker’s mother gave her $500 to contribute at the event, Turner told authorities, according to the summary.

Turner said that at one point during the fundraising event, she saw Bevin go into the house with Baker’s parents, brother and sister-in-law.

Baker’s mother told her that Bevin said he would pardon Baker, but didn’t say when, Turner told authorities.

Bevin has called the accusation that political contributions played a role in Baker’s pardon “highly offensive and entirely false.”

Bevin said in the pardon that the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best” and that he wasn’t sure justice had been served in the case.

However, the prosecutor on the case, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, has said there were ample grounds to convict Baker, and a Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion called the evidence overwhelming.

Baker’s father, John Baker, said he and his wife didn’t want to comment on Turner’s statement.

A federal grand jury issued a new indictment against Baker in late May charging him with killing Donald Mills in 2014. The charge is based on the same homicide as the earlier state case against Baker.

Baker’s defense attorneys argued that the government is trying Baker twice for the same crime, which is not allowed, but federal authorities said the indictment charges that Baker murdered Mills in connection with a drug crime, a different offense than the homicide charge in his state case.

Defense attorneys want Baker to be released on bond before his trial. The federal prosecutor opposes that, arguing he would be a potential danger to the community.

The FBI and Cameron’s office declined comment Monday on whether the inquiry underway in December 2020 when agents interviewed Turner continues.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Reed said during the June 22 hearing that a federal agency “is heading an on-going investigation” separate from the case involving the murder charge against Baker.

Judge stops release of pardoned KY man facing new murder charge

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