G’Quan “Tuttie” Baker became on Friday the first Baton Rouge teen murderer to benefit from last year’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw automatic state sentences of life imprisonment without parole for minors.
In Baker’s case, the federally mandated re-sentencing means he could be released from prison in his early 50s rather than spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Baker was 16 when Ashley London, 19, was shot to death June 29, 2011, in Scotlandville. A month later, Jessica Parker, 25, and Kevin Bowie, 32, were fatally shot as they sat in a car at the Elm Grove Garden Apartments.
Assistant District Attorney Leila Braswell won three second-degree murder convictions against Baker, now 18, from a jury in 19th Judicial District Court in September.
In accordance with existing state law last year, state District Judge Don Johnson automatically sentenced Baker to life in prison without benefit of parole or probation.
But Johnson changed that sentence Friday to three concurrent sentences of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years.
The judge noted that he received evidence for sentencing on both May 3 and Friday.
“All of the evidence … supports that G’Quan Baker came to us as a ‘crack baby,’ ” Johnson said. The judge added that drug use and mental illness meant that Baker “at the age of 14 had become a ticking time bomb.”
Johnson said Baker eventually “exploded into the lives of these families.”
Braswell, the prosecutor, argued earlier: “What we have heard … is that he (Baker) is a violent person” and not likely to be rehabilitated.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III later expressed disappointment that Baker did not receive a penalty of life without benefit of parole.
“I respect the difficulty of the judge’s decision,” Moore said. “But with all due respect to the judge … this sends a bad message.”
Too many juvenile offenders already believe they can kill without risking a lifetime in prison, Moore said. Thirty-five years for three murders is less than the 40 years in prison some offenders can receive for conviction on one count of manslaughter, the district attorney noted.
Ronald S. Haley Jr., one of Baker’s attorneys, said Johnson’s sentence “is a victory for juvenile rights in the justice system. I think the sentence was fair.”
Haley said Baker “was doomed from the womb. He was born a ‘crack baby.’ He’s had a history of mental health issues.”
Moore acknowledged that Lisa Baker, G’Quan Baker’s mother, testified she was addicted to crack cocaine while she was pregnant with her son.
Other children have drug-addicted parents, but choose to get an education and live good lives, the district attorney said.
Haley countered: “I believe he (Baker) deserves the chance, if he betters himself, to get out of prison. It is not automatic that he will be paroled.”
Fayette Parker, an aunt of Jessica Parker, said after the sentencing that Baker does not deserve sympathy because he robbed her niece of many years of life.
“I just thank God it’s over,” Felicia Harris, a relative of Ashley London, said after the hearing.
Moore said he remained deeply disappointed in the outcome of the sentencing hearing.
Baker shot (Bowie) 12 times,” Moore said. “He (Baker) is absolutely a poster child as one of the worst offenders.”
The district attorney said Baker searched for Bowie after learning that Bowie said Baker killed London.
“Added Moore: “He will have the chance to kill again.”
Last week, Haley argued that Baker needs rehabilitation from drug addiction. Haley added that Baker was adversely affected by his mother’s drug abuse, reported hallucinations as a young child and began abusing drugs at 12.
Haley questioned Jesse Lambert, a licensed clinical psychologist, who interviewed Baker before the three murders.
“The introduction of any drugs can affect (mental) development,” Lambert testified. “He (Baker) was experiencing hallucinations.”
Braswell, the prosecutor, asked Lambert whether Baker’s drug use could have caused those hallucinations.
“It is possible,” Lambert replied.
“Would Mr. Baker be considered a violent person?” Braswell asked.
“It was my opinion that he was at high risk for reactive violence,” Lambert testified.