Baker pleads guilty

Ex-priest draws 10-year sentence for crimes

Whittier Daily News/December 5, 2007

By Ruby Gonzales

Los Angeles -- A former priest pleaded guilty Monday to molesting two boys he met at churches in Pico Rivera and Los Angeles and was sentenced to more than 10 years in state prison.

Michael Stephen Baker, 59, of Long Beach admitted to committing 12 felony counts of oral copulation on a person under 18 at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Among those who spoke at the hearing was Matthew Severson, a former altar boy at St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada who said he was molested by Baker nearly 30 years ago.

Severson was not named as a victim in the criminal case.

"I don't know if he feels what he did are crimes. I do think he's a sociopath," Severson said, adding that Baker rationalizes his actions.

Several other alleged victims attended the hearing as did members of the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, which represents victims of clergy abuse.

Not present were the actual victims identified as John Doe and John Doe 2, whom Baker admitted molesting between 1994 and 1997 when they were between 14 and 18.

As a result of his plea, Baker must also pay $20,000 to John Doe 2 for mental health counseling and a $200 restitution fee.

Judge Curtis Rappe ordered Baker to register as a sex offender for life once he gets out of prison and undergo HIV/AIDS testing.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese and Baker had already settled with John Doe and his brother in 2000 for $1.25 million. He met them while he was priest at St. Hilary in Pico Rivera.

"By his plea and sentencing today, Mr. Baker has taken responsibility for his actions in this case," said Leonard Levine, one of his attorneys. "He hopes at the conclusion of the sentencing this will provide closure to those who he harmed with his actions and he is prepared to commence his sentence."

Baker received credit for 1,075 days which covers the time he was in county jail and for good time work credit.

During the hour-long hearing, Severson read a statement calling Monday's plea by Baker a symbolic victory for the victims. He said Monday was a day he'll never forget.

"Of course, it is important to remember that Michael Stephen Baker is only being charged for the crimes he committed against two of his victims - who fall within the current statute of limitation," he said in a written statement.

Severson's alleged molestation led to prosecutors charging the former priest in 2003 with 34 counts of sexual misconduct with a child. But the case was dismissed when the Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot retroactively erase statutes of limitations.

Ultimately, Severson said he's not sure if Baker is sorry.

Joelle Casteix, Southwest Regional Director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, said 10 years in jail will never replace a shattered life.

"He'll never be able to fully pay to what he did to those kids. We're just grateful law enforcement was able to prosecute," she said.

She said Baker should be charged with and convicted of other crimes he may have committed.

Dominic Zamora, 35, said he was molested by Baker when he was an altar boy at St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada.

"I do have anger and I do take psych (medication). I have not slept since last night," Zamora said before the hearing. "This is the main day I was trying to wait for."

He wanted Baker to wear a monitoring device on his ankle.

Zamora didn't speak in court. His father, Frank Zamora of La Mirada, his mother, Virginia, and his young daughter did. Because of the girl's age, the judge agreed with the prosecutor's request not to read her name into the record or have her photo taken in court.

"You have ruined my life and my father's life and there is no way we will ever forgive you," the girl told Baker.

She said the former clergyman caused her father to take drugs and become an alcoholic.

Her grandmother, Virginia Zamora, told Baker to look her straight in the face.

"I am your worst nightmare. I sentence you to life in prison. Do you remember me? Yes you do," she said. "You are not worth the spit on the sidewalk. You are lower than that."

Baker's plea bargain brings to an end the criminal case against one of the more infamous priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese accused of sexual abuse.

In 1986, Baker told then-Archbishop Roger Mahony that he had a relationship with two boys for seven years. He was sent to treatment, then a year later assigned to work with restrictions at different parishes.

Baker met John Doe, who was then 7, when he was a priest at St. Hilary. The boy's family moved back to Mexico but Baker visited them. He arranged four plane trips for the boy in 1994 which included visits to a San Diego home and a Palm Springs condo.

He admitted molesting John Doe at least twice in Palm Springs; during trips to Los Angeles where they shared a motel room and at two residences in Long Beach.

Sheriff's detectives said the second victim, John Doe was a 15-year-old altar boy at St. Columbkille, in Los Angeles, when he first met Baker.

According to prosecutors, Doe 2 had a discussion with Baker in July 1996 at the rectory where the then priest said he was his "godfather" and fondled Doe 2's genitals.

Baker told Doe 2 they were joined for life. He often spent time alone with the boy from 1996 to 1998, according to prosecutors. The victim was molested during a trip to San Diego and at Baker's home in Long Beach, prosecutors said.

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