The main suspect in the Baby Shannon kidnapping in Chipley, Florida will be going away for a long time. Judge Allen Register handed out the harsh punishment, despite pleas of leniency from Susan Baker's relatives.
"How bizarre and how cruel." Those words summarize Circuit Judge Allen Register's opinion of Susan Baker's actions.
The 52-year-old woman stood quietly and listened as family members and attorneys pleaded on her behalf.
"Please show mercy on my sister, I understand my sister messed up, she messed up bad. The whole family don't understand how my sister's facing 35 and the mother that said she buried my niece is walking free with my niece in Texas."
"Even though she went about it the wrong way, her biggest intention was to get Shannon out of a bad situation."
"Should the court sentence her to the maximum under the law in the Department of Corrections, obviously that would be the equivalent of a death sentence."
However, Assistant State Attorney Greg Wilson said Baker deserved the maximum penalty, given her previous involvement with her stepson's disappearance in South Carolina and her lack of remorse during the Baby Shannon trial.
"At no time did she indicate she was sorry for the actions she had taken and she was very self-righteous about ‘she did what she had to do' and she was satisfied with that."
Wilson estimates Baby Shannon spent nearly 36-hours inside of a 2-by-3-foot wooden box while authorities questioned Baker about her involvement. He asked judge register to impose 1-year for each hour the little girl was in that box, shoved under a bed in Baker's home.
"This is one of the most bizarre set of events I have ever encountered."
Judge register then told baker the facts and testimony clearly showed that she never had any intention of revealing Baby Shannon's location.
"No reasonable person could agree that this justified you taking matters into your own hands, I must admit as of today, I still do not know what you intended to do with this child."
He then sentenced her to 25-years in prison with credit for already serving 375 days in the Washington County jail.
[UPDATE] (11-15-2010) --
Around 10am on November 15, Susan Baker was sentenced to 5 years for interference with custody, 25 years for aggravated child abuse and 365 days for giving false to law enforcement. Baker was the aunt and baby-sitter of Shannon Dedrick, the object of an intense five day search in November 2009.
Since the sentences ran concurrently and she has already served
375 days in jail, she will only serve about 25 years total for the 3 charges.
Bakers ex-husband, James and her younger brother addressed the court, asking to consider that her intentions were to remove the child from her situation and to have mercy on her.
Asst. State Attorney Greg Wilson had asked the court to give her the
maximum penalty given her previous background in South
Carolina. Authorities estimated that baby Shannon was in the wooden
box for roughly 36 hours straight while she was away and he asked the judge to give her one year for each hour that baby Shannon was left in the box.
Stay with WCTV for details.
Crystina Mercer, the mother of Chipley baby Shannon Dedrick, will not be going to trial for her involvement in the child's disappearance. She took a plea this morning (Oct. 29) for the charge of giving false information to a law enforcement officer. The maximum sentence for that is 11 months, 29 days in jail, which she has basically served since she was arrested on November 4, 2009. The state will not be pursuing the other charges.
It took less than two hours for a jury to come back with a decision in the case of accused baby-napper Susan Baker.
She was charged with aggravated child abuse, interference with custody and giving false information to law enforcement.
"Verdict: we the jury find the defendant, Susan Elizabeth Baker, as to count one in this case, guilty as charged for aggravated child abuse."
Defendant Susan Baker sat quietly in her chair as she heard Friday’s verdict; Guilty as charged on the three counts of aggravated child abuse, interference with custody and giving false information to law enforcement.
During closing arguments, the State argued there was no justification, excuse or reason for putting 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick inside the 2-by-3 wooden box.
"For 10-12 hours, baby Shannon was in that box, with a dirty diaper, no way to change it, no food, no bottle, just baking soda to mask the smell. There weren't even any holes in that wooden chest to provide ventilation or air."
Baker shook her head in disagreement as jurors were explained on how she deceived everyone throughout the investigation.
The Defense argued Baker did what she believed was “reasonably necessary” because the Department of Children and Family Services didn’t do its job.
"DCF without a doubt failed Baby Shannon," the Defense said.
Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reaching the guilty verdict.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Wilson was pleased with the decision.
"We're satisfied that we put our very best case forward to the jury and they considered all the evidence, they deliberated appropriately and they rendered what we feel is a just verdict," Wilson said.
But Defense Attorney Gerard Virga is already preparing for an appeal.
"I think the defense presented a good case for Ms. Baker, I think we have plenty of issues left for appeal and I think that's where the case could be headed at this point, she's looking forward to her day in the appeals court."
The court still has to decide whether Baker will await sentencing in the Washington County Jail or the Bay County Jail.
Baker’s sentencing is scheduled for November 8 at 8:30AM. She could face up to 35 years in prison.
[UPDATE] (9-30 2:12PM) --
The judge has read jury instructions and jurors have now left the
courtroom for deliberations.
[UPDATE] (10-1 7:55AM) --
The trial of accused baby-napper Susan Baker will soon be in the hands of a jury.
The State and Defense both rested their case yesterday (9/30) after 3 days of intense witness testimony, which concluded yesterday afternoon when Baker took the stand and defended her actions.
Susan Baker didn’t decide to testify until 2:00PM Thursday.
She told Defense Attorney Rachel Seaton-Virga her intention last Halloween day was to save Baby Shannon Dedrick from her parents, Crystina Mercer and Rusty Dedrick.
“My opinion, he was just using her because he hadn’t had a job in 6, 8, 10 years,” Baker said.
“And what was he using her for because she wasn’t working either, was she?” Virga asked.
"For her check and the food stamps they were getting and the WIC that they were getting on the baby.” Baker replied.
Baker testified Rusty Dedrick would even take the baby’s food for himself.
She told the jurors how she was concerned for the baby’s health, given their deplorable living conditions.
"(A) rash up underneath her neck, she had bug parts in her diaper and she had little crusty things where it looked like she hadn't had a bath in a while." Baker went on to say.
Baker insists she had to intervene after Mercer told her she was thinking about killing Baby Shannon so she could get pregnant again.
"That one of these times that she gives her a bath and just hold her head underneath the water, she told me she was going to do it and I believed she was going to do it."
Baker claims she contacted the Department of Child and Family Services in Bonifay, but nothing happened, so she sent a letter to Charlie Crist.
"Everything lead right back to them giving Shannon back to Tina and Rusty," Baker said.
For that reason, Baker claims she refused to tell authorities where Baby Shannon was located.
"I didn't want her found yet, I wanted the Governor to tell me or someone from law enforcement to tell me, 'Ms. Baker, I swear to goodness I'm not going to give her back that baby."
Closing arguments are scheduled for today at 8AM.
[UPDATE] (9-30 7:51AM) --
Testimony continued in Chipley today in the trial of accused kidnapper Susan Baker.
Baker’s relatives and several law enforcement agencies took the stand regarding their involvement with Baker during Shannon Dedrick’s disappearance.
The State presented jurors the box where Baby Shannon was found by authorities.
Jurors finally got to see the actual 2-by-3 foot wooden box where Susan Baker allegedly hid 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick from authorities.
Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Kenny Brock, who found Dedrick inside of it, testified there was only one ventilation hole.
"This area right here is actually torn down, that's actually where baby Shannon's head was, I didn't see it, I didn't even see her head initially, all I could see was from her chest down, I could see her feet and torso and she was wiggling around," Brock said.
Brock also testified there was a box of baking soda inside and Dedrick’s diaper was covered in feces.
"She had pottied in her diaper and it was everywhere, we cleaned her up, after we got her cleaned, we realized she had a diaper rash also," Brock said.
Earlier, the State played a recorded interview between Brock and the baby’s mother, Crystina Mercer, who told him Baker kept her daughter almost as often as they did.
"A stranger to the child would be taking care of the child and you guys would be getting visitation of your own child?" Brock asked.
"Yes sir." Mercer replied.
Brock questions her repeatedly about her inconsistent statements leading up to Shannon’s disappearance.
"You don't know or you don't remember?"
"I don't know!"
"Is it possible something happened to the child and you just don't recall at this point?"
Baker’s sister, Donna Shirley, told the State how Tina [Crystina] cared very much for Shannon’s father, Rusty Dedrick.
"She thought he was her world." Shirley said.
Susan Baker’s Husband, James, also took the stand that afternoon.
He testified he had no idea Baby Shannon was inside their home.
[UPDATE] (9-29 9:14AM) --
The state began presenting its case yesterday (9/28) against accused baby-napper Susan Baker. Baker was the aunt and baby-sitter of Shannon Dedrick, the object of an intense five day search last November. The condition of Baby Shannon’s parents became the focus of the proceedings.
Prosecutor Greg Wilson asked jurors to consider justification, manipulation, and observation when considering the case of Susan Baker. Wilson used his opening statement to outline his case against Baker, saying a neighbor saw Baker’s van leaving Shannon Dedrick’s home the day she disappeared.
As she was leaving the driveway, a gray van nearly ran her off the road, for some reason she focused on the dashboard clock and the time was around 9:15am," Wilson said.
Wilson said authorities considered Baker as a person of interest after confusing statements by the baby’s mother, Crystina Mercer.
"Statements such as 'maybe I put the baby in a mailbox, maybe I put the baby in a duffel bag."
Authorities found Baby Shannon inside a 2-by-3 foot wooden box under a bed inside Baker’s home.
The defense claims Baker was trying to save the child, writing to Governor Charlie Crist and Child Welfare officials urging them to take Shannon away from her parents.
"One thing became apparently clear to law enforcement, this one thing that Susan Baker had a deep and abiding concern for the well being of Shannon, the evidence will show it's this concern for Shannon's well being that caused my client to call DCF," Gerard Virga said.
The state’s first two witnesses testified the mother’s unusual behavior led them to believe Shannon wasn’t missing.
"She says 'I can't find my baby, it was just very nonchalant, like she didn't care she couldn't find the baby, it was like a statement," Deputy Ricky Thompson with WCSO said.
Shannon’s father, Rusty Dedrick took the stand, saying the couple relied heavily on Baker for childcare.
"I thought she would be perfectly safe with Susan. I just wanted Shannon to be part of my families' lives," Rusty Dedrick said.
Check with WCTV for the latest.
Eyewitness News --
Lawyers are close to seating a jury for the trial of one of the two women accused of kidnapping a Chipley baby last year.
Susan Baker is the aunt of Shannon Dedrick and was her babysitter at the time of the kidnapping.
Authorities found the child stuffed in a 2-by-3-foot wooden box under Baker’s bed last November, following an extensive five day search.
Most of the potential jurors picked on September 27 already had some prior knowledge of the case. The selection began without any interruptions on Monday morning.
Circuit Judge Allen Register divided the jury pool into groups of five, and then along with the lawyers, questioned each group regarding their knowledge of the case.
The majority said they had heard about Shannon Dedrick through the media.
The search for “Baby” Shannon became a national story after she disappeared on Halloween Day last year.
Search and Rescue teams scoured almost every inch of Washington County to find her. Then on the night of November 4, 2009, authorities found Baby Shannon inside a wooden box under a bed inside Susan Baker’s home.
After her arrest, investigators said Baker, who was the child’s aunt and babysitter, had been their primary suspect.
She’s going on trial for aggravated child abuse, interference with custody and giving false information to law enforcement.
Attorney’s questioned the jury pool about their knowledge of Baker and whether or not they felt they could render an impartial verdict in the case. Some wavered, while others said they could be unbiased.
By 12:30PM, 22 potential jurors had passed the first round of questioning.
Opening statements and testimony is scheduled to begin in the morning today (9-28).