Victim Gary Baker had run Corvallis restaurants
ALBANY — Calling it a “fairly simplistic sentence for such a complicated matter,” Linn County Circuit Court Judge DeAnn Novotny sentenced Johnathan Baker to 10 years in prison Monday afternoon for last summer’s first-degree manslaughter death of his uncle Gary Baker, a former Corvallis businessman.
Years ago, Gary Baker ran Corvallis dining spots Tower of London and Beaver Hut.
Johnathan Baker, 17, also was sentenced to 36 months post-prison supervision and given credit for time served. He had no criminal history, and he had been in jail since August.
Prosecutor George Eder said the evidence that would have been presented to a jury — including the fact that the elder Baker died due to a single .22-caliber gunshot to the back of his head — would have been overwhelming. He said the younger Baker had been under “great emotional distress” at the time of the shooting.
According to Eder, Johnathan Baker came to live with his uncle on acreage near Waterloo in 2006 after the death of his father. His mother was unable to care for him at the time.
Eder described the younger Baker as having few friends, although he had acquaintances on the Internet. And, Eder noted, Baker fantasized about traveling the world and racing cars.
Neighbors and family members told investigators that Gary Baker, 69, was an entrepreneurial businessman, who was working as a financial adviser.
They also said Baker “was a strict, demanding man who expected accountability, self-discipline and self-reliance from his nephew.”
But Eder said some characterized the elder Baker’s actions as too harsh, or as examples of “tough love.”
Eder said there reportedly had been growing tension between the two. Yet, on July 30, they visited a friend of Gary Baker’s who lived in Lebanon and that person did not notice anything out of the ordinary between them. The Bakers left the residence about 4 p.m., and that was the last time Gary Baker was seen alive by others.
About 6 p.m., Johnathan Baker used his uncle’s cellphone to call one of his uncle’s friends. He told the friend that Gary Baker had left for Nevada on a business trip. The next day, some of Gary Baker’s business associates, who had conversed with him on an Internet call the day before, contacted the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.
A search of the Baker property was initiated. Johnathan Baker reportedly told one of his friends his uncle would no longer need his cellphone.
Johnathan Baker was not arrested at that time, but on Aug. 6, when a deputy attempted to stop a vehicle he was driving, Baker led the deputy on a high-speed chase on Interstate 5. His uncle’s “survival kit,” including a handgun, was found in the vehicle. In addition, Baker had several of his uncle’s identification cards.
A new search warrant was issued and on Aug. 8 deputies found Gary Baker’s body in a small ravine near his home.
Eder said Baker’s body was wrapped in a heavy-duty barbecue cover that had been stapled shut. Several empty staplers were found at the home.
They also found a .22-caliber rifle, but because the bullet found in Baker’s body was so deformed, a definitive match could not be made. Experts determined the weight of the bullet indicated it was a .22-caliber.
Eder said the “charge fits the evidence.”
Baker’s attorney, John Rich of Corvallis, said his client concurred with the sentence, adding that Johnathan Baker had nothing to say in open court, but he would speak to other family members privately.