The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


April 10, 2013

Prosecutor objects to low bond in robbery trial

LEWISBURG — Citing public safety issues, Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via vehemently opposed a motion for a low bond amount made by Gary Richard Baker’s defense counsel in court Tuesday.

Greenbrier Circuit Judge Joseph C. Pomponio Jr. advised Via and defense attorney Michael Whitt to schedule an evidentiary hearing on the question of bond as soon as possible.

Baker is accused of robbing a Fairlea Subway restaurant employee and attempting to rob the restaurant at gunpoint on March 15, 2009.

A Greenbrier County jury convicted him of two charges in connection with the alleged incident — second degree robbery and attempted robbery in the second degree — a verdict that Baker then appealed.

In February, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s verdict and remanded the case to Greenbrier Circuit Court for further action. Justice Allen H. Loughry filed a dissenting opinion.

At issue in the reversal was the revelation during Baker’s trial that he was on parole for a previous offense when charged with the 2009 robbery. The high court held that the introduction of that evidence was improper in that a state witness — not a defense witness — opened the door to the revelation, albeit under cross-examination.

“We have grave doubts about whether the evidence was sufficient to convict Mr. Baker after we remove the inadmissible Rule 404(b) evidence,” Justice Robin Jean Davis wrote in the Supreme Court’s majority decision overturning the robbery and attempted robbery verdict. “In other words, this was a very close evidentiary case.”

During Tuesday’s status hearing, Whitt reminded the judge that his client is “innocent until proven guilty.” The attorney asked, with that fact in mind, that the judge set a bond amount that would be “reasonable enough” for Baker to post it and gain release from jail.

Whitt said he prefers his client not be subject to home confinement while free on bond, suggesting a bond amount of $50,000 would be sufficient to ensure Baker’s continuing appearance in court, when required.

Via countered that the state would recommend bond of $500,000, given Baker’s “extraordinarily violent past.”

Baker had also been convicted in 2000 on four counts of wanton endangerment and served time in prison for those crimes.

Via told the judge, “This is a public safety question, pure and simple.”

No date was immediately set for the evidentiary hearing on the issue of bond.

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