Yesterday marked the 18th time that Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) snitch scandal corruption has forced prosecutors to abandon a major murder case rather than risk going to trial where additional embarrassing revelations of unethical law enforcement activities would certainly have been revealed.
For years, sheriff’s deputies and Tony Rackauckas’ district attorney’s office worked to send Michael Wesley Baker to prison for more than 100 years for allegedly murdering his grandmother plus three solicitation of murder charges.
But after this pre-trial defendant provided officials with a sealed declaration containing a taste of his knowledge about unlawful OCSD tactics and named unscrupulous badged characters, prosecutor Troy Pino on Monday offered him the sweetest of sweetheart deals: if you plead guilty to accessory after the fact and one count of solicitation of murder, you’ll walk out of the Orange County Jail a free man on Thursday without any probation or parole restrictions.
“To save my sanity, I took the deal,” Baker told OC Weekly. “The DA had threatened to keep me locked up for another 72 months [if I didn’t]. I’d been locked for the last 41 months in solitary confinement in a small, ugly, dirty cell like a dog cage. Anyone who would want to live 72 more months like that is a better man than I am. Nobody should have to go through this.”
Like in the other 17 cases, the DA’s office, which has gone to great lengths to protect dirty deputies in the scandal because the officers’ misdeeds have benefited their cases, hilariously declared victory, advising reporters that “in light of all the circumstances, this was the best outcome.”
Pino too flew into crisis PR mode, suggesting it would be “bizarre” and “outrageous” for anyone to believe Baker’s accusations of law enforcement corruption had anything to do with him walking out of the Orange County Jail yesterday at 10:30 p.m., instead of taking a lifetime trip to some state prison hellhole.
There is no doubt both agencies have worked feverishly to nail Baker on flimsy evidence in several cases. For example, largely because investigators assume he was the last person to see his elderly grandmother alive in 2009, he must be killer, though no body has ever been recovered.
In the hopes of pressuring Baker into confessing to the killing, OCSD arrested him on burglary charges in 2010 after he took just one or two steps into an open Laguna Niguel garage he wrongly thought belonged to a friend. I was the lone journalist who covered that trial and discovered two deputies committed perjury to built their case. They both unequivocally testified Baker lied that his vehicle had broken down near the alleged burglary site so his claim that he’d been seeking assistance must have been false. But, later, a long-buried dash cam video from the deputies’ patrol car showed the officers unable to start his car. That bombshell forced the DA’s office to drop the charges.
Legendarily notorious snitch scandal deputies Ben Garcia, Bill Grover and Seth Tunstall—all of whom have been labeled brazen perjurers by an Orange County Superior Court judge in People v. Scott Dekraai—played major roles in the latest round of flimsy charges, according to court filings.
The filings also describe deputies using two paid Mexican Mafia bosses-turned-snitches, Jose Paredes and Raymond Cuevas, who tried to tried to trick Baker into making self-incriminating statements in undercover OCSD operations.
As Weekly readers know, this publication exclusively revealed the Paredes/Cuevas scams in 2014.
Prosecutors later tried unsuccessfully to win judicial sanctions for anyone who cooperated with our investigation into snitch cheating.
You can see my coverage of the weak burglary case against Baker HERE.
Never mind this 18th botched case, Orange County Grand Jury foreperson Carrie Carmody last June declared the snitch c