The tears Barry Robert Baker Jr. shed in court as he begged for mercy Wednesday did nothing to change what the judge thought of him.
“You are a bully. You are a predator,” said Judge William P. Mahon of the Court of Common Pleas in Chester County, Pa., according to the Daily Local News. “You are a coward. In 18 years on the bench I have never had such tangible evidence of someone’s moral compass being so askew.”
For his crimes — assault and fleeing authorities — the state generally recommends between three and 14 months in prison, with six months probation. But Baker, 29, of Coatesville, Pa., was sentenced to a total of three to six years behind bars.
If you ask the prosecutors or law enforcement in this county, Baker had it coming.
It all began in the early morning hours of May 10, in a brutal scene that spurred rage across the Internet.
Baker and his friends were outside a 7-Eleven convenience store in West Chester at about 2:30 a.m. when a 22-year-old man with cerebral palsy parked his SUV. As the SUV driver walked into the store, Baker started making fun of his disability, stumbling around to mock the way he walked, according to a statement from the Chester County District Attorney’s Office. When the man came back out of the store, Baker continued to imitate the way he moved. Then, as the 22-year-old stood in front of his white SUV, Baker hit him with a sucker punch.
Baker immediately fled, running around the corner of the store. Meanwhile, the man he punched put his hands to his nose, appearing stunned as he looked down at the blood dripping onto his hands.
The assault was captured on security cameras, and the footage was uploaded to YouTube by the district attorney’s office. It soon went viral, drawing national headlines and even prompting two state legislators to propose legislation making it a hate crime to assault a person with a recognized disability.
Baker’s actions were “appalling,” West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said in a statement. “You wonder what would make an individual treat somebody like that.”
The sucker-punching and mocking of a disabled man was bad enough. But what played out in the days ahead only worsened Baker’s case.
After authorities issued warrants for Baker’s arrest, and after his story was published widely on the news, Baker fled his home, becoming a fugitive. He led authorities on a two-week manhunt across multiple states. There were rumors he had fled as far as Florida.
Under Baker’s instruction, his fiancee purchased a hotel room for him under a friend’s name, hiding the room key at a prearranged spot where Baker could find it. She bought a prepaid cellphone for Baker to use while evading authorities, according to the district attorney’s office.
On June 5, marshals found him hiding in the bathroom of the rented hotel room. In his phone records, investigators found evidence of Baker’s flight from law enforcement — searches for “how do cops ping a cellphone” and “how to change my personal name,” searches for Greyhound bus services and Amtrak train schedules to locations as far away as Mexico and Canada.
On June 27, authorities arrested Baker’s fiancee, Denise Schmidt, for hindering apprehension. And the same day, the Chester County District Attorney, Tom Hogan, announced that Baker’s father, Barry Baker Sr., was one of 46 people charged in “Operation Wildfire,” a massive drug bust. He was charged with selling morphine.
“So while his son was beating up a man with a disability, Barry Baker Sr. was selling us morphine,” Hogan said. “It’s a heck of a family.”
Hogan summed it all up in one statement:
“Since that unprovoked attack, the defendant has been arrested for assault, had his parole revoked, went on the run, was captured, and now has been charged with flight. The defendant’s fiancee has been arrested for helping the defendant flee. The defendant’s father has been arrested for dealing drugs. This is how Chester County law enforcement deals with bullies who pick on disabled people.”
Baker pleaded guilty in September to charges of simple assault and flight to avoid apprehension.
In an extensive interview with the Daily Local News reporter Michael Rellahan at the Chester County Prison, Baker depicted the sucker-punch scenario differently than prosecutors. He said he had been out at West Chester bars before the assault, and met the 22-year-old man he would later punch. He said the man was acting inappropriately around a woman. Baker told him, “Don’t do that. It’s disrespectful,” he told Rellahan.
The man retorted: “Who do you think you are, Dr. Phil?”
Baker said he would later run into the man outside the 7-Eleven. “He was running his mouth, and said, ‘Oh, look, it’s Dr. Phil again.’ I imitated how he walked,” Baker said, “which was wrong of course.”
“That’s when I let my anger get the best of me,” Baker told the Daily Local News. He was apologetic and said he was mad at himself for the way he behaved. But he said “this has all been blown all the way out of proportion.”
In court on Wednesday, Baker told the judge: “I want my life back. This will affect me for the rest of my life. I just want a chance to rebuild it.”
Baker’s lawyer defended him by saying he was remorseful and grew up in a dysfunctional home, the Daily Local News reported. His mother died of a drug overdose and his father abused substances, he said. The lawyer said Baker was drunk on the night of the assault, and had mistaken the disabled man for someone with whom he had an altercation earlier.
Mahon, the judge, sentenced Baker to terms of one to two years in a state prison for the charges. In addition, he sentenced Baker to another term of one to two years for violating his probation from a 2009 case of theft from a motor vehicle, for a total sentence of three to six years behind bars, according to the Daily Local News.
“I’ve been on the bench for 18 years, and I’ve never had someone misrepresent to me, and be caught doing it, as you,” Mahon told Baker, according to the Daily Local News. “You have extreme difficulty with the truth.”
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