Baker guilty; Messer awaits trial date

After more than three years following the death of Donald Mills, one of the subjects involved in his murder has been found guilty.

Late Thursday evening a Knox County jury returned a guilty verdict on the charges of reckless homicide, first degree robbery, impersonating a police officer, and tampering with physical evidence levied against Patrick Baker, originally of London, who was arrested days after Mills’ death on May 9, 2014. Baker’s fate was put on hold earlier this year when his first trial ended when the judge declared a mistrial.

Baker’s defense team closed their case Thursday by calling out the witnesses and evidence prosecutors presented against their client. “The only thing you have to base a verdict on is the testimony of people who are unbelievable, and not deserving of the trust,” said Baker’s attorney, Randy Jewell, in closing arguments Thursday. “Physical evidence in this case is inconclusive at best.”

Baker was one of four people arrested and charged in the murder of Mills, who died after being shot in his Salt Gum Hollow Road home. Kentucky State Police say two men made entry into Mills’ home after identifying themselves as U.S. Marshals. Mills’ wife drove him to Knox County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Along with Baker, also arrested and charged for Mills’ murder in the days following his death were Christopher Bradley Warren, Angela Mills, Stephanie Smith and Elijah Messer.

In November 2014, Baker was released from the Knox County Detention Center after posting a $500,000 cash bond, the second-largest bond amount held in Knox County history.

According to the original indictment, Baker and Wagner were identified as the men who posed as U.S. Marshals when they gained entrance to Mills’ home.

On September 2, 2016 at a court appearance, Wagner and his attorney made an agreement with the Commonwealth to amend count two of the indictment from murder to first-degree manslaughter.

Wagner pleaded guilty to that charge in addition to count three of the indictment, first-degree robbery. In exchange, Wagner will serve a 15-year sentence and must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Stipulations of his agreement included cooperation and testimony in all investigations and trials regarding Mills’ death.

Angela Mills also made a plea agreement with prosecutors in December 2016, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and agreed to testify against other suspects in the case for five years in prison.

Stephanie Smith passed away earlier in May 2017.

As Baker’s trial neared a start in July 2017, jurors were dismissed by Circuit Judge David Williams after new information had been made available, and his trial was rescheduled for October, having started on Monday, October 30. Baker’s trial took four days, sending the jury into deliberations Thursday afternoon, with verdicts returned after 10 p.m. Thursday night. The jury continued to deliberate on the recommended sentencing for Baker’s conviction, lasting into the early hours of the morning Friday, November 3.

The jury’s recommended sentence for each charge were five years for reckless homicide, 12 years for first degree robbery, one year for impersonating a police officer and one year for tampering with physical evidence. A formal sentencing hearing will be held on Friday, December 1, 2017.

“I appreciate the service of the jurors and the verdict they gave the Mills family in seeking closure to this horrible act of violence that the defendant committed,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, who represents the 27th circuit.

Baker’s trial was presided over by Circuit Judge David Williams.

The last person to be tried for Mills’ murder, Elijah Messer, will appear in court on December 1 at 1 p.m. where a trial date is expected to be set.