A registered sex offender who tried to snatch a 12-year-old girl from a Temecula street, in what he insisted was an innocent act of asking for directions, was convicted Friday of attempted kidnapping to commit rape and other felonies.
A Riverside jury deliberated one day before finding 69-year-old Robert Francis Baker of Hemet guilty.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Donner scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 30 at the Riverside Hall of Justice. In addition to the attempted kidnapping count, jurors convicted Baker of attempted lewd acts on a child, annoyance of a child by a registered sex offender and two counts of being in possession of child porn. The defendant could face life in prison.
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Baker, who acted as his own attorney throughout the roughly two-week trial, completed his closing argument Thursday, as did Deputy District Attorney Ed Jensen.
"I did not try to tell her to get into my car," Baker told jurors before resting his case earlier this week. "I had no chloroform, no mask, no gun -- nothing you need for a kidnapping. There's no evidence that I tried to abduct the victim. I wouldn't do anything that could ruin what I've worked so hard for all my life."
Jensen argued that Baker was a predator, who had no reason to accost the victim on the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2016, except for unsavory purposes.
"This young girl told the defendant 'no' over and over again when he
asked to give her a ride," Jensen told jurors at the outset of the trial.
"Yet, Mr. Baker continued to roll alongside her, refusing to take no for an answer."
Jensen alleged that Baker pulled out a large roll of cash and flashed it at the girl, identified in court documents only as "J.M.," as an inducement for her to get into his rented vehicle. But she firmly stated that she had no intention of accepting a ride.
Baker insisted: "I didn't have any time to do anything inappropriate to her."
The defendant asserted that he was trying to locate a Temecula dentist on Pauba Road for a $6,000 dental procedure when he encountered J.M. Baker said he was disoriented, unfamiliar with the area, and pulled over to ask the girl for directions.
Baker choked and wept on several occasions while testifying, telling the jury he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his freedom and risk not being able to care for his now-98-year-old mother.
The one-time charter boat captain said he had learned his lesson after a 1994 conviction for child molestation in San Diego County, and after serving a decade in prison, went out of his way to avoid run-ins with the law.
He admitted asking the victim twice whether she wanted a ride, even though she told him "no" the first time. Baker also acknowledged flashing cash at her, but said he was trying to pull out his driver's license to put J.M. at ease, and the money and card were bound together by rubber band.
"I was two seconds from pulling away, and in comes a hand and badge, telling me to turn off the car," the defendant said, referring to his detention by District Attorney's Office Investigator Ron McGowan.
According to Jensen, McGowan was in the area on business and witnessed the interaction between Baker and the girl while driving by. Jensen said the investigator stopped and asked J.M. if she knew Baker, and when she said she didn't, "Ron intervened and detained the defendant."
Sheriff's deputies took over the investigation, during which they found multiple vibrators, condoms and lubricants in Baker's rental car, according to Jensen. He also said a search of the defendant's Hemet home resulted in the seizure of several laptop computers loaded with child porn.
Baker is being held without bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.