Professional pool cleaner Corey Joel Baima told people he dreamed of someday performing missionary work for the Lord or becoming an architect. But his plans got derailed because he savagely tortured his young wife on more than one occasion and she eventually found the courage to tell authorities. When the 24-year-old Baima faced punishment for his crimes in 2006, Orange County sheriff's deputies, an ex-police chief and a pastor came to his rescue as character witnesses.
You see, Baima--arrested for a shooting incident as a juvenile--projected warmth to acquaintances and often volunteered that he read the Bible daily. One deputy, Jennifer J. Wenger, even told Judge Marc Kelly in court that Baima was a good person, then asked for leniency and suggested that instead of sending the convicted wife beater to prison, he let Baima move in with her. But to grant Wenger's request, Kelly would have to ignore Baima's disgraceful criminal conduct.
Baima met Heather in high school when they were both 14 years old. Hints of trouble arrived quickly, such as when Baima ordered her to quit the track team because he didn't want other male classmates to associate with her. Though Heather hadn't dated anyone else, she eventually agreed to marriage after her 21st birthday. There were many fights.
One of the worst incidents happened around 11 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2005. Heather, then a UC Irvine English major, asked Baima to turn down music he was playing so she could study. He rushed her, grabbed her neck, threw her to the floor, jumped on top of her, and began punching and choking her and placed her in a headlock. He unplugged the phones, turned off the lights in their apartment and pointed a 9 mm Glock at her face.
"I'll kill you before I let you leave," he told Heather as he threw her textbooks. "If the cops come, I'll kill you first. You're never getting out of here."
When Heather cried, Baima grabbed her neck with both hands, threw her to the floor again and declared, "I'll snap your neck."
Baima stood over his wife, pointed the gun at her head, repeatedly described how bullets tear apart skulls and demanded her obedience.
According to court records, he told her, "This is how real men treat their girlfriends."
Then, for an hour, he continued to taunt her as he ate food and blabbed about plans to escape to Mexico if he killed her. Eventually, nature interrupted the insanity. Baima went to the bathroom. A pajama-clad Heather used the chance to escape, running down the street, scaling a fence, climbing a large hill and making it to Mission Viejo Hospital's emergency room. Her body bore the fresh bruises of a domestic-violence victim.
Interviewed by police, Heather described numerous other times when Baima had abused her, including in September 2004 when he angrily drove her to a secluded spot on Ortega Highway, put a gun to her face and threatened to shoot if she didn't obey his orders. "Good luck screaming for help," he had reportedly said. "I could kill you, leave you out here, and nobody would find you for days." When she agreed to obey, he took her home.
"I started out as a happy, ambitious young girl," Heather told Judge Kelly at Biaima's sentencing hearing. "He displayed himself as a controlling, jealous and violent person from the beginning, and I was too young and naïve. I obeyed him to avoid conflict. I sacrificed my own thoughts, feelings, dreams and relationships with family and friends for him. He turned me into an extremely frightened and broken girl. He made me feel like life had no value."
But Jean Chastney, Baima's mother, told Kelly that the jury that convicted her then-24-year-old son of four felonies after a trial was wrong, that Baima was the victim of a manipulative, deceitful wife.
"I'm not going to let you sit here and engage in bashing the victim," the judge said.
"Corey has always been a great Christian man," she fired back. "He wants to live for the Lord. He wants to do missionary work. . . . My son is one of the nicest, gentlest guys you would ever know."
Jolan Chastney, Baima's maternal grandmother, then told the judge that Corey's "first reading choice" is the Bible.
"His calm and caring nature--extended to friends and strangers--has always amazed people," she said. "There's no cruelty in him. Corey has always been a defender of the weak, especially his wife."
When Chastney declared that it was Heather who had "the fatal attraction" in the relationship, Kelly cut her off.
After Deputy Wenger said she'd "love to have Corey live with me," Kelly noted Baima's "callous" and "cruel" conduct and laid blame where it belonged.
"The court feels that you put yourself in this position and nobody else," he told Baima before sentencing him to a seven-year term in prison.
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From his prison cell, Baima has continued to fight. He claims that prosecutor Nicole Nicholson violated his right to a fair trial when she told the jury about his other uncharged acts of domestic violence. In late September, the California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana told him his argument was "without merit" and upheld the conviction and punishment.
(Wednesdays at OCWeekly.com, discover the depths of human depravity in Orange County, California.)
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-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly