Former Priest Pleads Guilty to Abuse, Receives 10-Year Sentence

By Ryan Oliver
Daily Journal Staff Writer

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LOS ANGELES - A former Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to 10 years and four months in prison after pleading guilty Monday to molesting two teenage boys in the mid-1990s.

Michael Baker, 59, was also accused of molesting more than 20 other young victims. But those charges were dropped in 2003 after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a California law that retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for some sexual offenses. That state law made it possible for authorities to pursue often decades-old cases.

As a result of that decision, Baker is one of the few Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese priests to emerge from the church's sexual-abuse scandal who will do prison time.
Baker was considered among the most notorious cases of clergy abuse in Los Angeles. Baker's court date came as some of Baker's latest victims received well over the $1.4 million average payout given to other victims.

Alleged victims, their friends and family members packed Monday's sentencing hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe to tell the court how much pain Baker has caused them and that they feel the sentence is light in comparison to the crimes.

Neither of the two victims mentioned in the complaint were in attendance.

"As a result of this (abuse), I was deprived of my adolescence," Matt Severson, a former altar boy, told the court. "If a criminal case could be presented by all of us, he would never live another day outside of a prison cell."

The Baker case has been a lighting rod for critics of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony became aware in 1986 that Baker was abusing children but rather than call police, Mahoney sent him to treatment and reassigned him to a total of nine different churches.

Baker was initially scheduled to be tried in 2003 but his case, along with those of nearly a dozen other Los Angeles Archdiocese priests, was tossed as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

He was arrested gain in 2006 at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a trip to Thailand and Nepal, and was charged with molesting two teenage boys. Those offenses occurred after the state legislature in 1993 eliminated the statute of limitations for some serious sexual offenses.

Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said after Monday's hearing that the sentence was fair. Prosecutors agreed to it, in part, to avoid the pain a trial would have caused to the victims, he said.

Baker's defense attorney, Don Steier of Los Angeles, declined to comment.
In a written statement, Mahony said, "I hope that today's action, combined with (Baker's) previous removal from the priesthood, bring into sharp focus for him the horrific damage he has caused, and that it also brings some sense of justice and solace to his victims and to the church community that he so grievously harmed."