G’Quan “Tuttie” Baker, who last year became the first Baton Rouge convicted killer to benefit from a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the sentencing of teens, failed to persuade a state appeals court Friday to overturn his second-degree murder convictions and life term with the possibility of parole after 35 years.
Baker, who authorities claim was 16 when he fatally shot three people in Scotlandville in a month’s time in 2011, was found guilty in September 2012 — three months after the Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama. He was sentenced in May 2013.
The high court ruled in Miller that states can no longer automatically sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole in murder cases without first holding a hearing to consider the defendant’s youth, upbringing, circumstances of the crime and other factors.
The Louisiana Legislature, in response to that ruling, approved a measure last year requiring a sentencing judge to hold a hearing to determine whether the sentence should be imposed with or without parole eligibility. If a sentence is imposed with eligibility for parole, the legislation gives incarcerated offenders a shot at freedom after serving 35 years for first- or second-degree murder.
Prior to his trial, Baker filed a motion to quash his indictment based on the Miller decision, but state District Judge Don Johnson denied the request. After his conviction and sentencing, Baker argued Johnson erred in denying his motion to throw out the indictment.
A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal noted Friday that Baker, now 19, conceded he was sentenced in accordance with Miller and ruled unanimously that Johnson “fully complied with the requirements set forth in Miller.”
Contrary to Baker’s allegations, Circuit Judge Vanessa Whipple wrote, Miller did not invalidate Louisiana’s second-degree murder statute “nor does it prohibit prosecution or deprive the district court of its jurisdiction over an offender under the age of eighteen years.”
The statute says that whoever commits the crime of second-degree murder “shall be punished by life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.”
“If Miller invalidated (that) penalty provision … , our Louisiana Supreme Court has previously held that the invalidation of a penalty provision does not render an entire statute unconstitutional,” Whipple wrote for the panel that included Circuit Judges Page McClendon and Toni Higginbotham.
Baker’s first victim, 19-year-old Ashley London, was shot to death June 29, 2011, in Scotlandville. A month later, Jessica Parker, 25, and Kevin Bowie, 32, were fatally shot as they sat in a car at the Elm Grove Garden Apartments.
“It is never easy to choose to try a juvenile as an adult for their actions. In this case, however, there was no question as to what had to occur to protect our community,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday. “At 16, he acted as an adult in taking three lives and should be sentenced as an adult under the law as the court affirmed in its decision today.”
Baker’s mother, Lisa Baker, testified last year she was addicted to crack cocaine while she was pregnant with her son.
“All of the evidence … supports that G’Quan Baker came to us as a ‘crack baby,’ ” Johnson said at his sentencing. The judge added that drug use and mental illness meant that Baker “at the age of 14 had become a ticking time bomb” that eventually “exploded into the lives of these families.”
Prosecutor Leila Braswell argued to the judge that Baker is a violent person who is not likely to be rehabilitated.
In a separate trial in 2012, Preston Nelson, 30, also was convicted for the murders. He is serving a life sentence without benefit of parole.
A life prison term without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence is still automatic in Louisiana for those convicted of second-degree murder who were 18 years old or older when the crime was committed.