LONDON, Ky. (AP) — A convicted killer whose family had political connections to former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is back on trial for the 2014 killing that Bevin had pardoned him for shortly before leaving office.
Patrick Baker was convicted of reckless homicide in Donald Mills’ death in state court in 2017. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison, but Bevin pardoned Baker in 2019 as part of a slew of pardons that drew rebuke from both Democrats and Republicans.
Baker’s pardon was especially controversial, since Baker’s family had held a fundraiser for Bevin the year before, raising $21,500 for the Republican’s unsuccessful reelection campaign. Baker’s brother and sister-in-law also gave $4,000 to Bevin’s campaign on the day of the fundraiser, the Courier Journal reported.
Baker now faces new federal charges in connection to Mills’ death, as authorities pointed to the “dual sovereignty doctrine,” which allows state and federal officials to prosecute the same defendant for the same actions without infringing on double jeopardy protections.
In the trial’s opening arguments Tuesday, federal prosecutors said Baker killed Mills, a drug dealer in Knox County, in 2014 while trying to rob him of cash and pain pills, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
Baker targeted the drug dealer because he thought the man wouldn’t be able to report the robbery, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Reed said.
Reed said Baker knew Mills had pills at his house, and bought plastic handcuffs at a store before invading Mills’ home.
Baker, 43, has said he did not kill Mills and said his family “did not pay for my release” from prison.
One of his attorneys, Steve Romines, argued Tuesday that another man committed the murder and blamed it on Baker.
A federal grand jury indicted Baker in May on charges of murder committed during a robbery and kidnapping related to drug trafficking.
Bevin wrote in the 2019 pardoning document that Baker’s “drug addictions” led him to fall in with the wrong people and the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best.”
But the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Baker’s conviction in 2018, writing in a unanimous ruling that “there can be no doubt, on review of the proof as a whole, evidence of Baker’s guilt was overwhelming.”
His pardon by Bevin won’t be an issue in federal court after a judge ruled that evidence about the pardon is not admissible.
Baker could face up to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty for him if he is convicted.
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