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Wesley Eugene Baker (March 26, 1958 – December 5, 2005) was a convicted murderer executed by the U.S. state of Maryland. He was convicted for the June 6, 1991, murder of Jane Tyson in Catonsville. He was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m. EST after being executed by lethal injection. As Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013, no new convicts can be sentenced to die, but those condemned at the time abolition went into effect remained, technically, under a sentence of death. However, on December 31, 2014, Gov. Martin O'Malley commuted the sentences of the final four condemned inmates to life imprisonment, officially making Barker the last person to be executed by the state of Maryland.
His first criminal conviction was for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle at 16 years old, for which he received 3 years in prison. In 1978 he was convicted of armed robbery and received 15 years in prison. Released after 9 years, he was only a free man for two years, before being arrested again for weapons and drug-related offenses.
Wesley Baker approached Jane Tyson, 49, on June 6, 1991, in the parking lot of Catonsville's Westview Mall as she got into her car with her grandchildren, a 6-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, after shoe shopping. He placed a gun to her ear and demanded her purse and then, without warning, fired the gun, killing her instantly. He fled to where his accomplice was waiting with a Chevrolet Blazer. A member of the public spotted the two fleeing in a car. He noted the license number and called the police, who apprehended Wesley Baker and Gregory Lawrence a short time later.
Trial and appeals
Baker was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Harford County on October 26, 1992, of first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. Four days later he was sentenced to death by the same jury as well as forty years in total for the other two charges. The conviction and sentence were upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Lawrence was convicted of the same charges a year earlier and received life in prison plus 33 years.
There have been doubts raised that Baker was the shooter. The 6-year-old girl said that the shooter ran to the driver side of the car, while a member of the public said that Baker was sitting in the passenger seat. Tyson's blood was found on Baker, but police never tested the clothing of Lawrence. Fingerprints from Baker's right hand were found on Tyson's car, but Baker is right-handed, which lead the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to note in 2000:
- "…one must wonder how it was possible for [Baker] to hold the gun to Tyson's head and leave his fingerprints on the [car], especially in light of the fact that the incident took only a matter of moments."
The court also wrote that the evidence that Baker was the shooter "was not overwhelming." The court did decide to uphold Baker's conviction, however.
Baker received a stay of execution in 2002, days before he was scheduled to die, when Governor Parris N. Glendening imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state to allow a study by Professor Raymond Paternoster of the University of Maryland, College Park to be completed. Paternoster later found that the imposition of the death penalty in Maryland is racially biased. Paternoster found that prosecutors are 2.5 times more likely to seek the death penalty in cases where African Americans are accused of murdering Whites than in cases where Whites are accused of murdering Whites. It is 3.5 times more likely compared to cases where African Americans are accused of murdering other African Americans. There were also geographical issues, with some counties 13 times more likely to seek the death penalty.
Gary Christopher, who is Baker's lead attorney tried to use the study to get Baker's sentence overturned. The court denied the appeal on a procedural matter, but did cite a Supreme Court of the United States ruling that held that statistical analyses were not sufficient to show that individual cases were unfairly prosecuted.
On November 28, 2005, William Henry Keeler, Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore, visited Baker in prison. It was the first time the Cardinal had visited a death row inmate. After meeting with him, Keeler made a personal plea for the governor to grant clemency and commute the sentence to life imprisonment without parole. Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lifted the moratorium when he was elected in 2003. Just prior to the execution, Ehrlich released a statement in which he said he had decided to deny clemency.
Baker was executed by a lethal injection on December 5, 2005. It was the 1002nd execution in the United States since the Gregg v. Georgia decision in 1976.
He was not asked by prison officials if he had a final statement. His lawyers said that he had made his peace and expressed remorse for what had done. Jennifer McMenamin, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who witnessed the execution, said that Baker showed little reaction during the injection of the lethal doses of chemicals. His breathing did become more rapid and loud, with a gasping and sucking nature.
Unlike other U.S. states, Maryland does not offer the condemned a special last meal; instead the prisoner receives whatever is on the menu the day of their death. The Department of Corrections said that Baker's last meal consisted of breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread, and milk.
- Simpson, Ian (2 May 2013). "Maryland becomes latest U.S. state to abolish death penalty". Yahoo! News. Reuters. Archived from the original on 24 June 2013.
- Wagner, John (31 December 2014). "Gov. O’Malley to commute sentences of Maryland’s remaining death-row inmates". The Washington Post. Retrieved 010 February 2015. Check date values in:
- Barnhardt, Laura (3 December 2005). "Wife, mother, teacher, victim". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- December 2005 Executions from ProDeathPenalty.com
- Report from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
- Urgent Action on execution of Wesley Eugene Baker from Amnesty International (from when his execution was scheduled for May 2002)
- Baker v. State No. 132, Sept. Term, 2004. Court of Appeals of Maryland
- Rich, Eric (December 4, 2005). "Execution Still On Despite Racial Analysis". Washington Post.
- "Cardinal Asks Governor To Spare Convicted Killer's Life". WBAL-TV. November 29, 2005.
- "Baker executed for 1991 killing". Baltimore Sun. December 6, 2005.
- "Witness describes final moments of Baker's life". Baltimore Sun. December 6, 2005.