Before Howard Baker was sentenced last Friday for vandalizing a Centreville woman's car and biting a police officer, his attorney said Baker never intended to hurt anyone.
BUT ASSISTANT Commonwealth's Attorney Jason Bryk disagreed. "He had a loaded, 9 mm. handgun and a knife," said Bryk. "He was better armed than the police officer."
In the end, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Marcus Williams sentenced Baker to 1 1/2 years in prison. But as far as the Centreville woman was concerned, it wasn't enough: "I'd hoped he'd be away for a substantial amount of time — long enough so there could be true intervention to stop him from his actions."
The incidents occurred Feb. 29, 2004, and police initially charged Baker, 38, of Brandywine, Md., with six offenses. A 31-year-old woman called police, around 9 p.m., and reported that Baker — her ex-boyfriend — was vandalizing her vehicle.
Officer Justin Palenscar responded to the 14000 block of Flower Hill Drive, in Sully Station, and spotted Baker near the woman's car. But as he approached, Baker fled.
He kept reaching into his waistband while Palenscar pursued him. Palenscar eventually caught up with him, but he struggled and bit the officer several times. However, with the help of nearby residents — to whom he called for help — he was able to apprehend the man.
Baker had a 9-mm handgun and a large knife in his waistband. Police charged him with two counts of possession of a concealed weapon, plus destruction of property, assault on a police officer, possession of burglary tools and stalking.
Some charges were later dropped. But on Nov. 19, Baker was convicted of stalking and received a year in jail. And on Nov. 29 in Circuit Court, he pleaded guilty to destruction of property and assaulting a police officer. He returned last Friday, March 11, for sentencing.
Defense attorney Fred Brynn said the victim was Baker's former fiancée in 2003, but he loved her more than she loved him and, in January 2004, they'd begun premarital counseling. "He presented a wedding ring to her, which she spurned," said Brynn. "These incidents took place soon after that, when he thought he still had a flicker of hope. He wishes her no ill will."
BRYNN SAID the woman had returned Baker's calls and, after missing a meeting with him, had asked him to come talk with her at her house. He said Baker went there, Feb. 29, to try to reconcile with her — and he denied firing the gun.
"It's regrettable that he armed himself," said the attorney. "It wasn't his intention to use [the gun] — he'd taken it for self-defense. He realizes what he did was foolish."
But after the sentencing, the woman (who Centre View is not identifying because she's a victim) said nothing could have been further from the truth. She said she'd never intended to resume a relationship with Baker and she believes he truly meant to harm her, that night. Said the victim: "You don't show up to reconcile with a 9-mm weapon."
Asking Judge Marcus Williams to sentence Baker to "years" behind bars, Bryk said Baker had viciously vandalized the woman's Mercedes, fired gunshots and had to be subdued by both police and residents.
"This defendant didn't come there that night to talk to somebody, but to kill somebody," said Bryk. "It's a miracle that someone wasn't killed." (Indeed, Palenscar later received a Valor Award for his efforts to apprehend Baker).
Before sentencing, Baker offered his "deepest, most sincere apologies to the victim, the officer and the court. I've never been in trouble, and my parents raised me to have strong values. I've been a productive citizen all my life."
The judge then sentenced him to five years in prison for assaulting a police officer and suspended four years. For destruction of property, he gave him three years, suspending 2 1/2 years. He ran the sentences consecutively so Baker has 1 1/2 years total to serve.
Williams also placed him on three years supervised probation and ordered him to perform 40 hours of community service. He further ordered Baker to undergo mental-health evaluation and treatment, pay $2,293 in restitution and have no contact with the victim.
Afterward, the victim — disappointed that the full story about Baker hadn't come out in court — provided Centre View with details. She spoke of the night of Feb. 29, as well as their relationship.
The woman is a business executive and, after serving in the military, Baker was working as a messenger. Things between them didn't work out, she said, because he was so possessive: "He said he would kill me so no one else could have me."
In late 2003, he was charged with stalking her. The charge was dropped but, in November 2003, he entered into a peace bond, promising to keep the peace for a year and have no more contact with her. But, she said, Baker returned a month later: "The man was out on bond and was still stalking me — at home and at my workplace."
SHE SAID HE was in counseling for his problems, not premarital counseling. "He acted as if he'd changed, but I saw through it," said the woman. "I could see signs that he was still unstable. And he started unraveling pretty quickly, as he started pressuring me to remove the peace bond."
On Feb. 29, 2004, things reached the boiling point. Besides arriving at her home with a handgun, Baker was armed with a weapon similar to a hunting knife, plus burglary tools. But, said the woman: "There was no discussion on the phone — no invitation for him to come over."
She'd just bought a $27,000 Mercedes and, she said, "If it hadn't been for my neighbor's son hearing the air seeping out of the right rear tire, I wouldn't have even known [Baker] was out there." Besides slashing the tires, Baker ripped off the car's emblem and scratched the back bumper with a knife before shredding the interior.
But when a neighbor's son opened his garage door, it temporarily frightened Baker away. The woman called police and Palenscar, (who's now a sergeant), responded and took the report. "I told him I thought it was my ex-boyfriend because we had a very violent, toxic relationship which had ended Jan. 5, (2004)," she said. "He was constantly calling and begging to see me alone."
She said she'd refused to see Baker because she knew she had to get free of him. "He was unstable, had periods of violent rage and then would become helpless," she said. "He even joined my church [to impress me]. He was obsessing."
By Feb. 29, 2004, she'd known Baker slightly more than a year. After Palenscar took the car-damage report and left, she and her neighbors heard gunshots. From her upstairs bedroom window, she saw Baker in front of her house, carrying something large, and feared for her life. She called 911 and Palenscar again responded.
By then, her car had been totaled. "[Baker] ripped the dash[board] with his knife and slashed every seat, down to the cotton padding," said the woman. "He cut wires, stabbed things repetitively and removed the GPS [Global Positioning System] system. This was malicious and vindictive."
Now that he's behind bars, she hopes she'll be safe — at least, for awhile. Reflecting on her history with Baker, she said, "I stayed in the relationship because I was afraid he'd kill me," she said. "But that's also the reason I knew I had to get out of it."