A nationally regarded civil rights lawyer said Monday that a man who received a controversial pardon by former Gov. Matt Bevin was wrongfully convicted after misconduct by Kentucky State Police, who allegedly ignored evidence and a different suspect.
Patrick Baker, who was convicted of killing a man during a home invasion in Knox County in 2014, was one of hundreds of people Bevin pardoned in his final days in office earlier this month.
The pardon has drawn national scrutiny because Baker’s family raised $21,500 for Bevin at a political fundraiser last year. Baker’s two co-defendants are still in prison.
Bevin wrote in the December 6 pardon that the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best.” In fact, Baker’s lawyers said Monday that DNA left at the scene exonerates him.
Chicago-based attorney Elliot Slosar, who has a track record of overturning convictions, said Baker’s relatives have been “unfairly attacked and accused of ‘paying’ for a pardon. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Baker, 41, said in a prepared statement on Monday he is “grateful for the courageous actions of Governor Bevin.”
“After being presented with evidence of my innocence and allegations of misconduct against the police officers in my case, he gave me a chance to have my life back,” Baker said in the statement provided by Slosar. “I hope that the true killer of Donald Mills is ultimately apprehended and that the Mills’ family gets closure in the end by having the right person in prison. I did not kill Donald Mills and my family did not pay for my release.”
Knox County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, whose office prosecuted Baker, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Slosar attacked the credibility of the troopers who investigated Baker, saying they have been named in two federal wrongful conviction lawsuits and have “made startling admissions” of misconduct in unrelated cases, including giving false grand jury testimony and falsifying search warrant affidavits.
In the Baker case, Det. Bryan Johnson and Det. Jason York were told that the shooter had brown eyes and a tattoo on his bicep, according to Slosar.
“Mr. Baker had neither,” Slosar said. “These officers further developed evidence implicating an alternate suspect who matched the details provided by the eyewitnesses. The alternate suspect was never charged.”
Allegations of previous misconduct by detectives Johnson and York were brought up during Baker’s 2017 trial. Baker’s then-attorneys asked the judge to force prosecutors to turn over evidence of misconduct by the detectives in other cases, according to court records.
The defense attorneys claimed Steele was “fully aware of the allegations of improprieties” of the detectives and had failed to turn the information over, as required.
“There has never been an investigation into the two of them in relation to the Baker case because there have been no allegations of misconduct in that case,” said Kentucky State Police spokesperson Sgt. Josh Lawson. “That conviction was appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court and the appellate court upheld the conviction.”