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Kevin Baker

Other Camden County, New Jersey exonerations
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Shortly before 6 a.m. on January 28, 1995, a man called 911 in Camden, New Jersey and reported finding two bodies lying in a pool of blood on a walkway near Phillip and 8th Street in the Roosevelt Manor housing complex. The man sounded very upset and hung up before giving his name. When emergency personnel and police arrived, they found the bodies of 35-year-old Rodney Turner and 40-year-old Margaret Wilson. Both were shot in the head.

Police recovered three shell casings. Two bullets were later recovered from Wilson’s clothing. No bullet was recovered from Turner’s body

Five days later, an informant told police that her cousins, Denise Rand and Tyrone Moore, had been in the area when the shooting happened, and that the “talk on the street” was that 23-year-old Sean Washington was the shooter. Based on the autopsy findings, police believed two shooters were responsible. They took Rand and Moore to the police station and separated them. After an interrogation and photo display procedures that were never documented, Rand made a taped statement claiming she was with Moore when she saw Sean Washington and 23-year-old Kevin Baker run up to Wilson and Turner, shoot them, and continue running right past her.

Moore, meanwhile, denied this, telling police that he and Rand had been blocks away when they heard the shots. He said they had only come to the scene afterward—an account that matched what other witnesses had already told police. Moore agreed to take a polygraph examination. The examiner, who apparently was not credentialed, issued a report concluding that Moore was “lying” about not having been present and not having committed the murders himself. Rand did not take a polygraph examination.

Baker was arrested on February 15, 1995. Washington disappeared when he learned police were looking for him, but was arrested on March 21, 1995 when he returned to the area. Washington and Baker knew each other, but were not associates and were known to dislike each other.

Both men were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and various weapons charges.

In July 1996, they went to trial in Camden County Superior Court. The prosecution acknowledged at the outset that it was a “one-witness case.”

Rand testified that she was at 8th Street and Phillip when she heard two or three shots. She said she then saw Baker and Washington, whom she knew, run past her. Asked what she saw before they ran past her, Rand said, “I seen them two get shot,” meaning Wilson and Turner. Asked “What do you mean?” she replied, “I saw them when they dropped.” She said she couldn’t remember which defendant had shot which victim, so the prosecutor had her read and adopt from her taped statement that Baker shot Turner and Washington shot Wilson.

Her testimony vacillated. Confronted with a portion of the police interview during which Rand said she was not paying attention to whether both men had weapons when they ran past her, she responded that she “was standing there,” so she “just had to be paying attention.” She explained that her response to the detective that she was not paying attention “was the answer at the time.” Under further questioning, Rand acknowledged that she “wasn’t paying no attention.”

Rand could not recall who shot Turner or who shot Wilson. After first saying she could not recall if Baker shot Turner, Rand was shown the transcript of her police interview that she saw Turner “get shot first” and that “K.B.” [a nickname for Baker] shot him. She then testified that Washington shot Wilson.

Rand admitted that she had gone to Roosevelt Manor to buy drugs, that she had smoked crack cocaine approximately two hours before the shootings, and that at the time she smoked crack every two to three hours. Although she admitted being under the influence at the time of the murders, she claimed she was “not to the point where I don’t know what I’m seeing.”

When asked who she was with at the time, Rand initially replied that it was “none of your business.” She then said that she was with her cousin, Tyrone Moore. After she told the jury that Moore was walking a few feet behind her at the time of the shootings, she was confronted with her police interview in which she said that Moore was walking in front of her. Rand then replied that Moore was “in front of me, behind me—he was there.” She then said she did not remember where Moore was. “I turned around, he was gone.”

Sergeant John Jacobs, a firearms analyst from the New Jersey State Police, said that all three of the shell casings recovered at the scene came from the same type of firearm, a “9-millimeter Luger caliber type,” but he could not tell whether it was a revolver or a semi-automatic weapon.

Jacobs also said he could not tell whether the two bullets were fired from the same gun due to their “mutilated condition,” and that more than one gun could have been used.

George Hickman, a trace evidence analyst from the New Jersey State Police crime laboratory, testified that gun powder and lead were detected in the area around the two bullet holes in Wilson’s white knit hat, which indicated “a relatively close shot.”

Dr. Robert Segal, Camden County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsies on Turner and Wilson. Dr. Segal said that Turner died from a bullet fired from within a half-inch of his head, entering behind his left ear, and exiting behind his right ear. Wilson, he said, died from two gunshot wounds to her head and a “relatively minor” gunshot wound to her left arm that was “through and through.”

Dr. Segal said he could not determine if Wilson was shot two or three times. He testified, “There is no way to tell whether this bullet passing through the arm was related to either of these two [head] wounds or was a third wound.”

The defense presented no evidence. The defense listed Michelle Redden as an alibi witness, but did not call her to testify. Redden had told police she and Baker were home together at the time of the crime. Tyrone Moore, Rand’s cousin who was with her at the time of the murders, was also listed as potential defense witness. He told police when first interviewed that at the time of the shooting, he and Rand were blocks away and that Rand could not have seen the shootings. But instead of calling Moore as a witness, the defense sought to argue that he was a possible perpetrator. The judge ruled that they could not make that argument to the jury because there was no evidence indicating Moore’s guilt.

On August 1, 1996, Washington and Baker were convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and illegal use of a weapon. The trial, after jury selection, lasted two days. They were both sentenced to 60 years to life in prison.

In 1998, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld Baker’s convictions. The appeals court rejected Baker’s claim that his trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call expert witnesses on eyewitness identification and on the effects of consuming crack cocaine to challenge Rand’s testimony. In 1999, the Appellate Division upheld Washington’s convictions.

In May 1999, Baker filed a post-conviction petition claiming that his trial defense lawyer was ineffective for failing to call witnesses, including Moore and Redden. At a hearing in October 1999, Baker’s trial defense attorney said he did not call Redden because, based on her “general demeanor,” he believed she would not have come across as truthful. In addition, the lawyer said that the prosecution was prepared to call a witness to contradict the timing of a television program Redden had said she and Baker were watching. The petition was denied.

In 2002, Washington filed a post-conviction petition alleging his trial defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call Moore, Redden, and Washington’s cousin Dwight Collins as witnesses. The petition was denied and Washington appealed. The petition was remanded for Collins’s testimony.

At the hearing in March 2003, Collins testified that Washington was cooking chicken at Collins’s mother's house at about 5 a.m. on the morning of the murders. Collins said that at about 6:00 a.m., Washington left to make a call from a pay phone near the intersection of 8th Street and Central Avenue, which was about a one-minute walk from where the bodies were found.

Collins said Washington returned approximately five to seven minutes later and was “very emotional” and “crying.” Washington said he saw two people on the ground, and that he thought one of them was Collins’s brother, Darnell Wheeler (who was also Washington's nephew), because one of the victims was wearing a jacket similar to one that Wheeler wore.

The petition was denied again and the denial was upheld on appeal in 2005. A second post-conviction petition was denied in 2007. Washington also filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied in 2008.

Meanwhile, in 2004, Baker filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which was denied in 2005. In 2007, Baker filed another state post-conviction petition, but it was withdrawn and never refiled.

In 2011, Lesley and Michael Risinger, who founded the Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall University Law School, began re-investigating Baker’s case. In 2012, Baker sought to take a deposition of Redden, who had stage four breast cancer. The motion was denied. After Baker’s post-conviction petition was filed in 2013, the Appellate Division ordered the trial court to consider a new motion to depose Redden. This was again opposed by the prosecution and Redden died before the motion was resolved.

The trial court had scheduled testimony from defense expert witnesses and ordered the prosecution to turn over discovery. The discovery was turned over in October 2013 and included the 911 call. Multiple witnesses subsequently identified Sean Washington as the caller. Baker authorized the sharing of all information with Washington, and the Last Resort Exoneration Project obtained separate counsel for Washington.

In November 2013, Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist, testified that Turner had been shot once from close range on the left side of his head while his head was positioned upright. He said that based on the bullet trajectories and the lining up of the head wounds with the arm wounds, Wilson had been struck by two bullets which passed through her head and struck her arm as she lay on the ground. This contradicted Rand’s testimony that Wilson had been shot while standing up, and contradicted the medical evidence at trial that Wilson could have been shot three times.

Dr. Baden also testified that based on the blood coagulation and other signs documented by the paramedics, Turner and Wilson had been dead for at least fifteen minutes before paramedics arrived.

Lucien Haag, a firearms analysis expert, testified that found mineral grains on the bullets as well as “abrasive damage” that he believed was not just the result of the bullet hitting bone and were caused when the bullets struck hard-packed soil. He said he saw what he called the “bow effect,” which occurs when a bullet ricochets off soil and the mineral grains “act just like a sand blasting” and leave “scoring” and “scratching” on the bullet.

He said that showed that the bullets had emerged from Wilson’s head, struck the ground and ricocheted off at a low velocity before penetrating her arm. This testimony confirmed Dr. Baden’s conclusion that Wilson was shot while lying on the ground, which was contrary to Rand’s testimony. The prosecution’s firearm analysis expert concurred with Haag’s ricochet conclusion.

Haag also testified that the shell casings were fired from the same semiautomatic pistol, strongly indicating that both victims had been shot by the same weapon. Neither he nor the prosecution’s firearm expert could completely exclude the possible use of a second weapon, but, Haag testified, there was no evidence supporting that notion.

The defense and prosecution submitted an agreed statement from an expert on mineralization saying that high levels of silicon on the bullets could only have come from an external source, most likely silicon dioxide in sand or dirt.

In 2014, Washington filed his post-conviction petition. Over several days in March and April 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing during which Baker, Washington, and other witnesses testified.

Lamont Powell testified that immediately after the murders, Raheem Miller admitted that he shot Wilson and Turner.

Washington testified that he had been home, eating and talking with Dwight Collins, when he went out to make a call at the pay phone. He said he spotted the bodies lying on the ground from a distance. He walked closer and became hysterical, thinking that one of the bodies could be his nephew Darnell, and went to the pay phone to call 911. He also saw Moore go over to the bodies and heard him say their names. Several witnesses corroborated this account. Numerous witnesses identified Washington’s voice on the 911 call.

Michael Kahn, who represented Washington at trial, testified that he did not consider consulting a forensic pathologist, firearms examiner, or shooting incident reconstruction expert. Kahn admitted that he “did very little” to investigate Washington's claims. Washington provided him with the names of other people to corroborate his account, but he did not interview them. Kahn acknowledged he did not try to determine a timeline of events or the physical layout of the surrounding area.

Kahn asserted he was not aware that a recording of the 911 call existed, but when it was played for him, it was “absolutely clear” that Washington was the voice on the recording.

Baker testified that he was with Redden at her mother's home in Roosevelt Manor until about 2:00 a.m. when a friend gave them a ride to Redden’s apartment in another section of Camden. Baker said they went to sleep around 4:00 a.m., and were home for the rest of the day. He said he first learned of the murders when Redden’s brother came by the apartment and told them what had happened.

Baker testified that the prosecution had offered him a deal to plead guilty and testify against Washington in return for a sentence of eight years in prison. He said he rejected the deal because he did not know anything about the shootings.

Vinson Montgomery, a polygraph examiner for the Public Defender’s Office, testified that he gave Baker a polygraph examination in 2008 and that he had a “high degree of confidence that Mr. Baker was telling the truth” when he denied any knowledge of the crime.

Frederick Gumminger, Baker's trial defense lawyer, testified that recently discovered news footage corroborated Redden’s statements to him about having seen the murders reported on television.

Also submitted were two statements by acquaintances of Rand’s, both deceased at the time of the hearing, who independently said that shortly after the trial in 1996, Rand said she was not present at and did not witness the murders.

On August 31, 2017, the court denied the defense motions for a new trial.

On December 26, 2019, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed and granted a new trial. The court said that “our independent review of the record, in light of the newly discovered evidence, compels us to conclude it would be unjust to allow this verdict to stand.” The appeals court said the forensic evidence “powerfully undermines” Rand’s testimony.

In February 2020, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office said that would not seek to retry Baker and Washington. The office issued a statement saying the decision was based on “the totality of the circumstances, including the passage of time and the impact it would have on re-trying the defendants and proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

On February 11, 2020, Judge Edward McBride granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the charges, and Washington and Baker were released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/28/2020
State:New Jersey
County:Camden
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:60 to life
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No