HAGERSTOWN, Md. - A sentence of life without parole for a Garrett County killer has left the family of a second victim with mixed feelings about a decision by prosecutors not to pursue a conviction for her slaying, the woman's grandmother said Monday.
Sharon Kay Baker said she's satisfied with the sentence Jeffrey C. Minnick received for fatally stabbing 24-year-old Timothy Lax on May 31, 2011. But in a last-minute twist, prosecutors dropped their case against Minnick in the death of Lax's 18-year-old girlfriend, Jessica Baker, even though he had already been convicted of killing her.
"I feel there was no justice for Jessica but in the long run he got put away for life, and that's what we wanted," Mrs. Baker said in a telephone interview from her Oakland home.
Minnick, 47, was sentenced Friday in Garrett County Circuit Court for fatally stabbing Lax on May 31, 2011, at a campsite in an undeveloped part of Oakland frequented by vagrants. Minnick had been convicted in February of two counts of first-degree murder after entering Alford pleas to the slayings of both Lax and Baker. In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.
As the sentencing hearing began, defense attorney Joseph M. Owens said his client wished to withdraw his Alford plea in Baker's death. Although Minnick acknowledged killing Lax, he claims another man killed Baker, Owens said. Investigators say they have ruled out that individual as a suspect after determining that he left the campsite before the slayings.
Garrett County State's Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch agreed to let Minnick withdraw the plea involving Baker. In return, the state was free to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Lax's murder. Until Friday, Minnick had faced a possible maximum of two life sentences with the possibility of parole.
Welch said in an email Monday that that she conferred with both victims' families before agreeing to the new deal.
"Both understand and desired for there to be finality and for there to be no chance for Mr. Minnick to be free in the community ever again," Welch said.
She said she considers the sentence Minnick got to be more severe, final and definitive than the two life sentences he might otherwise have received.
Welch also rejected Minnick's claim that someone else killed Baker.
"The state is not conceding to any of the factual allegations being made by the defendant," she said in a written statement Friday.
Owens said Minnick took responsibility only for what he did: "He did the murder of Tim but he didn't do the murder of Jessica."
Baker's grandmother, who is also her adoptive mother, said the sentence brings to an unsatisfying conclusion the life of a big-hearted but rebellious young woman who "just got in with the wrong people."
Lax and Minnick had known each other for years, Mrs. Baker said. Minnick, a native of nearby Mount Storm, W.Va., had recently returned to the area from North Carolina after serving time there for a 1987 sex offense. Lax had a record dating to 2005, including convictions for theft and supplying alcohol to minors.
Lax and Baker had a stormy relationship _ each had recently accused the other of assault and harassment _ but they were apparently getting serious. Her body was found at the campsite wearing a gold ring with diamond chips that Lax had bought at Wal-Mart earlier that day. Both were stabbed multiple times. Minnick's Smith & Wesson knife, bearing traces of Baker's blood, was found in the nearby Youghiogheny River.
Mrs. Baker said Minnick was jealous of the couple's relationship. Welch said in February that Minnick had told Lax's grandmother before the slayings that if Lax didn't drop Baker, "he would have to do both them in."
Mrs. Baker said Monday that she's certain Minnick killed Jessica. At the sentencing hearing Friday, "I just looked at him and said, `I know you killed her, you know you killed her and God knows you killed her, and you will get punished for it in time,'" Mrs. Baker said.
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