Ahlexas "Lexi" Hughes was just a month old when her father, George Hughes III, was murdered in Baton Rouge in 1998.

After his killer was convicted in 2000, Candise Baker -- Ahlexas' mother and George Hughes' fiancee -- promised the prosecution team that she would notify them when her daughter graduated from college.

"I'll never forget the promise she made to us after the trial and conviction. She looked at her two-year-old daughter and said, `she and I are never going to forget you guys, and I'm going to call you when this little girl graduates from college', or words to that effect," U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin, who was the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office investigator on the case, said last week.

Baker, who now lives in North Carolina, kept that promise.

Ahlexas graduated from UCLA earlier this month, and her proud mother -- who was raised in California -- reached out to former Assistant District Attorney Domoine Rutledge, who was the lead prosecutor on the case, to share the great news.

Baker, who has lived on both sides of the country since the slaying, said she has kept the business cards of Rutledge; then and current Assistant District Attorney Stephen Pugh; Fremin; and then East Baton Rouge sheriff's detective Karl Kretser in a shoe box with important papers all these years.

"I've been carrying some stuff around for a long time," she said with a laugh during a telephone interview last week.

Rutledge said he was floored to receive the news from Baker after two decades. He added that his recent conversation with her was "very emotional, obviously."

"I had totally forgotten about the case," Rutledge said when asked if he had forgotten the promise she made in 2000. "It had been 20 years, and I don't say that to minimize it."

Rutledge said he is "so very happy" that justice was served in the homicide case and that Baker and her daughter are doing well.

"She (Baker) did not allow this situation to define her," he said.

Fremin, who spoke with Baker last week, described her as a remarkable person who "radiates positivity" and said she "seems like the kind of person who can't help but succeed."

Baker is an employment recruiter for Duke University.

"In the intervening years since the trial she raised a bright young lady who recently graduated from UCLA, and, like many single mothers, she took the time to invest in her own life and career," said Fremin, who during the trial of Hughes' killer held Ahlexas in the hallway while her mother testified.

The chief federal prosecutor for the Baton Rouge-based Middle District of Louisiana said he is proud to have played a small role in helping the mother and daughter "find the justice they so richly deserved."

"Twenty years ago I was pretty confident Candise and Ahlexas were going to be okay because of the positive qualities I saw in Candise 20 years ago -- now I'm sure of it," Fremin said.

Ahlexas, who turned 22 on Sunday, said she graduated from UCLA with a degree in sociology, the same degree her father and mother obtained from Southern University in Baton Rouge, where Baker and Hughes met.

"She was supposed to go to Southern University, but she got into UCLA," Baker said, poking a little fun at her daughter, who she described as her best friend. "I was like the proudest mom ever when she got accepted into UCLA."

Baker, who went to Southern on a volleyball scholarship, said her daughter has accomplished so much without letting things get in her way.

"I'm just hoping she continues on her streak," Baker added.

George Hughes, 27, a Frito-Lay salesman, was killed July 26, 1998, during an apparent carjacking.

Depton Jones Jr., now 41, was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a life prison term. Another man, Barold Raven, now 42, pleaded guilty in 1999 to accessory to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail but released with credit for time already served, and for time off for good behavior. He denied any involvement in the crime.

Hughes' body was dumped in a vacant lot on Jade Avenue. His car was found abandoned nearby.

"He left to go to the carwash (off Gardere Lane) and never came back," Baker recalled last week.

Despite losing her father before turning a month old, Ahlexas said her mother succeeded in keeping his memory alive.

"She pretty much went out of her way to make sure I knew I had a father," Ahlexas said.

"There's always been pictures, and I kept every newspaper article," Baker said. "You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words."

Baker never married, and Ahlexas is her only child.

"Me and my mom are really close," Ahlexas said. "We're really like a duo."

Baker acknowledged that life since 1998 hasn't been easy.

"It's just been a rough road. It's hard to explain because I was so young. I didn't realize until later how hard it would be," she said. "But I have a great family."

Ahlexas said she finally reached out to Depton Jones about a year ago, perhaps seeking some closure.

"I was just mulling over it. I wasn't sure I could get any resolution. I knew it wouldn't bring my dad back," she said.

Jones denied killing her father, so Ahlexas said she decided to move on.

State District Judge Bonnie Jackson, who presided over Jones' case, and Bo Rougeou, who was one of his attorneys, both said they are delighted that Baker and her daughter are doing well and that they were able to overcome such a tragedy.

Fremin said Baker and Ahlexas are a reminder that some of us unfortunately suffer terrible tragedies, but we cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by our difficulties and problems.

"She made a choice to lift herself up and she dedicated her life to her career and to raising a great young lady who will no doubt be a success, because she obviously has a great role model," he said.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.