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Jury says killer should die

Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys jury Wednesday ordered the death penalty for a handyman convicted of sexually assaulting three women, including a grandmother whom he killed and whose body he dumped in a desolate area of Palm Springs.

The decision comes less than a week after Paul Wesley Baker, 47, disrupted the death penalty portion of his trial when he smeared his feces over his face and had to be temporarily removed from the courtroom, authorities said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gretchen Ford said the disturbance Friday was a failed attempt to influence the jury. Ford said she was telling jurors about the murder victim and several were crying when Baker acted out.

“It was timed perfectly,” Ford said, adding that Baker has reported having hallucinations while in jail.

Anthony R. Garcia, one of Baker’s defense attorneys, said he was disappointed with Wednesday’s decision. Garcia had argued that Baker was severely abused as a child by his parents and stepfather and did not deserve the death penalty.

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He questioned whether the disturbance had influenced the jury. “How does one disregard an outburst like that?” he asked. “That paints a picture that words cannot.”

During the five-month trial, prosecutors presented DNA evidence linking Baker to the murder of his former girlfriend, Judy Palmer, 60.

Palmer went missing from her Reseda apartment in April 2004. Her body, bound with rope, was discovered a month later near Interstate 10. Her body had decomposed so rapidly in the desert heat that an autopsy could not determine how she died.

Prosecutors said that Palmer, clean and sober for 28 years, had been a sponsor to countless other addicts.

“She was more than just a kind, mature grandmotherly figure. She was an inspiration to people,” Ford said.

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Steve Park, the lead investigator on the case, said Baker had targeted vulnerable women, many of whom he knew through sobriety meetings in the San Fernando Valley. “He is a monster,” Park said. “He’s preyed on weak people his whole life.”

Baker is scheduled to be sentenced June 20.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com


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