"If I don't change now my kids and my family are going to suffer," Shirl Baker III said. "I want to own up to what I've done and get a chance to make things right for the people I've hurt."
This sentiment took precedence in Wetzel County Circuit Court on April 23 as Shirl Norman Baker III, 30, of 1802 Muddy Creek Road, Middlebourne, stood before Judge David Hummel Jr. to await his sentencing. After a strenuous hearing Hummel sentenced Baker to one-15 years in the West Virginia State Penitentiary for Men. However, despite the state's recommendation, Hummel suspended the incarceration for five years on home confinement with provisions of probation. Baker will also be released for work, educational, and counseling purposes. He is also responsible for all court and counseling costs. Baker will reside in Middlebourne with his fiance, daughter, and father. Tyler County will supervise the house arrest while John Lantz will supervise Baker's probation. Thus, Baker will have two agencies overseeing him. Defense Attorney Patricia Kurelac asked, and was granted, appropriate modifications in the instance that Baker's home or employment conditions change.
Baker pleaded guilty to count two-felony offense possession of a controlled substance (heroin) with intent to deliver-of his two-count indictment in Wetzel County Circuit Court on March 31. As per a plea agreement, the court dismissed count one of his indictment-delivery of a controlled substance (heroin)-and Hummel ordered Adult Probation Officer Lantz to file a pre-sentence report by April 16. All parties were present to review Lantz's pre-sentence report and await Hummel's ruling on Friday.
At the sentencing hearing on April 23 Baker's attorney, Kurelac, made requests for a few changes to be made to Baker's record. Kurelac stated Baker's mother left the family when he was two years old and Baker was raised by his father and grandmother. Kurelac also clarified that Baker's last employment was for FRC railroad in early 2009 and that Baker received a tax refund of $5,900 wherein $4,300 was taken out for his other two children and the remainder was given to his fiance for her and their child. Lastly, Baker's attorney let the courtroom know Baker had driven himself daily to the methadone clinic in Parkersburg in the fall of last year. In December he had to quit the program because his father couldn't pay the $13 a day for the clinic and transportation.
Following these recorded changes, Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught also had additions to be made to Baker's record. In regard to Baker's prior criminal record Haught made the court aware that in addition to Baker's Dec. 24, 2009, offense, he was also arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of heroin in Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, 2009, at which time Baker was in the company of three individuals who have recently pleaded and been sentenced in Tyler County for heroin-related charges. As far as Haught was aware, Baker's misdemeanor charge was still pending.
Kurelac promptly set the record straight; she talked with the jail authority and had been told there is no jail detainer on Baker in Pittsburgh. Baker has always had issues regarding his mother leaving and his anger and pain led to drug and alcohol problems from an early age. She also stated his grandmother, whom he was raised by and very close with, passed away last summer. However, he and his fiance had been going to the methadone clinic and, in spite of his addictions, Baker was gainfully employment for several years, supporting three children and their mothers. Kurelac brought these points up to plead for the court to allow alternative sentencing for Baker to continue treatment and work, which was so ruled. She also mentioned he's already gotten a job set up in the event he received alternative sentencing. Most importantly, Kurelac stated Baker was prepared for probation, however strict; he wanted to do whatever it would take for his family's sake.
At that point Haught spoke on behalf of the state's position in the matter. The state's recommendation was that Baker be sentenced to one-15 years in the West Virginia State Penitentiary for Men. Baker, in his version of events, indicated he went to Pittsburgh to get the drugs, planned on using them, and had no intention of selling them. However, the statement attached to the criminal investigation report clearly indicated that in addition to possession, Baker was allegedly involved in a delivery, conspiracy, and three more deliveries. Although such information was admittedly difficult to prove in the court of law and also being that some of the events occurred outside of his jurisdiction, Haught underlined that the investigation report clearly contradicts Baker's statement.
"This incident also points to the number of individuals, the number of lives Baker impacted in respect to this particular transaction," said Haught. "This is the problem with heroin. This isn't a habit he had by himself." Haught went on to say nicotine and heroin are the two most addictive drugs and furthermore, heroin is also one of the most dangerous drugs abused. The state believed one-15 years was a fair sentence given what Baker was involved with and the impact this occurrence has had in Wetzel County.
Additionally, in reviewing Baker's criminal record Haught stated Baker has had a long history of criminal incidents including several misdemeanors and two felony convictions including the offense at hand. "He's already had a chance," said Haught. "It's been the state's position consistently that probation is for first-time offenders." Haught also stated he believed Baker to have many positive qualities and that he'd like nothing more than for Baker to turn his life around, but based upon his track record, the severity of the crime, and the number of lives touched by this crime, the state simply had to argue for Baker to be confined in the state penitentiary. He also went on to argue Baker would not be using these substances if incarcerated and would be away from the people with home he associates. "What I've found is that individuals become involved in drugs because of their associations," said Haught, "When you lie down with dogs, you end up with fleas. I believe it's best for him to be incarcerated."
Baker's criminal record includes a prior felony conviction of unlawful assault in January 2002 in Tyler County, parole release April 1, 2003, followed by a DUI charge in June 2004, a charge of littering and speeding in December 2006, battery destruction of property in October 2008, and several driving offenses and other charges in-between.
Hummel asked Baker how this time would be different if he was put on probation. Baker replied that during the first time around there was no rehabilitation, which he really needed. "This time if I go to prison that's more time away from my family that depends on me," he said. Baker also described what a heroin addiction is like. "You don't think about other things. The only thing you think about is how you're gonna get high," Baker said. "I did things I'm not proud of and I need the help now to have a brighter future."
Hummel then addressed Baker's father. At the previous hearing Baker's father said he wouldn't put his home up for property bond. In the courtroom on April 23 the father explained that he would not put it up because there was a possibility of losing it. "Trust doesn't have anything to do with it," Baker's father said. "If I was in his place I wouldn't put the property up for myself. That's for the grandkids to come along and use."
Hummel took several moments in silence as he thought over all that was presented in his courtroom. Hummel then asked for Lantz's input before sentencing. Lantz said he'd known Baker for a number of years. "The thing that troubles me is that when he was on probation in 2002 in Tyler County he lasted 15 days," said Lantz. "Baker has grown up, but I just don't know if he has it in him to stay away from his group of people."
After hearing many arguments, Hummel sentenced Baker to the state penitentiary, but suspended that sentence to five years home confinement. "Lantz is going to tell you who your friends are. He will make a list of those who you are not going to have contact with," said Hummel. He went on to say Mr. Baker is on the shortest of short leashes. Hummel underlined, "It's not lightly that I defer my original sentencing, but I do it with you on a tight leash, and I wish you success."