In 1987, 25-year-old Ronnie Baylor was arrested and charged with two separate sexual assaults in December 1986 and January 1987 in Twentynine Palms, California.
In December 1986, a woman told police that a man entered her house in the middle of the night and raped and sodomized her at gunpoint. The woman said the attacker stole a gun and left.
In January 1987, a different woman said a man forced his way into her hotel room and sexually assaulted her, then left with her wallet.
Police said Baylor confessed to both attacks, though Baylor later recanted and claimed he falsely confessed because he was threatened by police.
Baylor was charged with rape, burglary, robbery, theft and illegal use of a firearm. He went on trial in Riverside County Superior Court in 1987.
Neither victim testified. Instead, the prosecution relied on Baylor’s confession. There was no physical or forensic evidence presented at the trial. Baylor testified and denied the charges. His wife testified and said he could not have committed the first attack because she was with him elsewhere at the time.
On November 30, 1987, a jury convicted Baylor of all charges and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
While still in prison and prior to his 1995 release, Baylor filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming his trial lawyer provided an inadequate legal defense for failing to investigate a crime laboratory report that excluded him from the crimes based on blood-type analysis.
In 1995, a federal judge granted the petition and ordered a new trial. In September 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the order granting Baylor a new trial.
The Ninth Circuit found that after Baylor was arrested, a criminalist in the Riverside County Sheriff’s crime laboratory compared Baylor’s blood and saliva with seminal fluid from vaginal swabs obtained from the first victim and with semen stains from items of clothing from the second victim. The criminalist concluded that the results appeared to eliminate Baylor as the source of the biological evidence. But the analyst said that to be definitive, a semen sample from Baylor should be obtained and tested.
The appellate court held that Baylor’s lawyer knew about the report prior to the trial but never sought additional testing and didn’t subpoena the criminalist until the case came to trial. The criminalist was on vacation and unavailable, so his report was not admitted into evidence.
The appellate court noted that the federal district judge hearing the petition for a writ of habeas corpus had ordered the additional testing that the criminalist had recommended. This testing was a comparison of blood types—not DNA testing. Based on laboratory results, a defense expert and an independent expert both concluded that the biological evidence from the victims could not have come from Baylor. The federal district court judge found that “there is a reasonable probability that the evidence that would have been presented but for (defense) counsel’s ineffective assistance would have injected reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds in regards to all of (Baylor’s) convictions.”
After the district court ruling was upheld by the Ninth Circuit, the case was dismissed in September 1996.
In December 1996 and January 1997, three women were raped in the cities of La Quinta and Palm Desert in Riverside County. DNA analysis of biological evidence identified the same male DNA profile in all three cases. The profile was entered into the California DNA database and it matched the profile of a DNA sample that Baylor had been required to provide in 1994 when he was incarcerated for the earlier rapes.
Baylor was charged with the three rapes in 1998 and was convicted of all three in 2000. He was sentenced to life in prison.
– Maurice Possley