BOISE — Prosecutors believe the 20-year-old woman might have died in the Boise foothills the night of March 16 if Cody Baker hadn’t stopped the attack against her, which involved a kitchen knife, a broken bottle, and a rock.
Nevertheless, he’d also planned and carried out that attack, along with three other people, even if he stopped it halfway through. And on Monday, 4th District Court Judge Deborah Bail sentenced him to 15 years in prison — eight fixed, with another seven possible — for his involvement in the attack. He’d pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting an aggravated battery.
Police and prosecutors believe Baker, 30, along with Justice Bowie, 20, Kevin Ivey, 29, and Brianna Brown, 21, planned the attack and carried it out days after Baker met the victim, 20-year-old Sarita Morgan, at a Boise homeless shelter. The case’s four defendants — all of whom have now pleaded guilty or, in Brown’s case, been convicted by a jury — didn’t have a permanent place to live, and would sometimes stay with a friend in Nampa, when they weren’t staying in a Boise homeless shelter. On the night of the attack, prosecutors said, the group told Morgan they were taking her to the Nampa residence where they sometimes stayed.
Instead, they drove up the Eighth Street extension and into the foothills.
“I could hardly be in Boise without having, one, flashbacks of this whole offense, and, two, I could hardly go a day without thinking about it,” Morgan said in court Monday during Baker’s sentencing hearing.
He apologized to her directly.
“I am truly sorry for what happened and I regret doing it,” Baker said. “I stopped it before they completely finished it because ... I saw something in your eyes that I knew that I was facing. I know how you feel. I’ve been through that. That’s why I stopped it.”
Baker didn’t explain what he was referencing, but Brian Marx, his defense attorney, spoke about the physical and sexual abuse Baker endured as a child in foster families. By the time Baker was 16 or 17 years old, Bail noted before sentencing him, the Nebraska native was living on the street, before making his way west.
Marx said that lack of a safe, stable family influenced the way Baker saw the relationships in his life. He noted Baker and some of the other people in the group referred to each other as siblings, even though they weren’t related by blood. He also noted the speed at which Baker’s relationship with Morgan moved — they’d met days before the attack, and just one day prior, he’d proposed to her.
“He doesn’t have that connection to really any individuals because of his upbringing in the foster system,” Marx said. “When he finds himself close to people or people he feels comfortable with, he tries to form that family attachment.”
In interviews with police, he said he felt frustrated because he thought Morgan had come between himself and his found family, Bail noted.
Even though Morgan is a transgender woman, no one involved in the case believed the crime was motivated by hatred towards transgender people. Bail said, “This was not a hate crime, but this was an explosion of anger that quickly spread into major conflagration.”
Attorneys, as well as Bail, noted Baker’s history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, hearing voices, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Bail said she believed he needed to learn to control his anger, and noted he hadn’t shown any inclination to work on himself during the 10 years he spent in prison on two grand theft charges, which ended only about six months before the attack on Morgan. He’d initially been sentenced to retained jurisdiction, but didn’t make an effort to engage with the necessary programs, said Whitney Welsh, the case’s prosecutor, and so he ended up serving the full decade possible under that sentence. She noted he’d started more than 60 prison classes and hadn’t finished any of them.
Marx pointed out the obstacles in Baker’s life those classes would have to overcome.
“It needs to be a program tailored to his needs,” he said. “It needs to take into consideration his mental health issues. It needs to take into consideration his developmental, or cognitive, issues.”
Bail said she felt prison was necessary in Baker’s case.
“I don’t have any realistic hope that in anything other than a structured setting that he can or will deal with his issues that led him to this particular crime,” Bail said.
Two of the three other people charged in connection with the attack — Bowie and Ivey — are scheduled for sentencing in October, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting an aggravated battery. A jury convicted Brown of the same charge last week after a four-day trial. Her sentencing is set for November.