Fresno judge sends Harry Baker to jail

The law finally caught up with Harry Baker.

The former Madera County supervisor was tossed into jail Wednesday for missing two court hearings in his long-running felony child molestation case.

A disheveled Baker, 86, appeared confused when Judge Jonathan Conklin ordered him held in the Fresno County Jail without bail.

To settle his nerves, Baker was told to take deep breaths by his lawyer, Roger Nuttall.

Conklin issued a warrant for Baker’s arrest on Monday after Baker skipped his second straight court hearing.

In issuing the warrant, Conklin said Baker was testing the court’s credibility because he had willfully missed a court hearing on the morning of Sept. 11. When Baker showed up in the afternoon, Conklin warned him to be on time at the next hearing or he would go to jail.

Conklin also was upset with Baker because he failed to see two court-ordered doctors. Conklin had ordered the doctor appointments to determine whether Baker was competent to stand trial and assist in his defense on a charge of lewd acts with a 13-year-old girl in a Fresno motel room in 2007.

Baker was a fugitive for three days before Nuttall arranged for him to appear in front of Conklin with hopes of keeping his client out of jail.

Baker showed up to court Wednesday afternoon in a wheelchair and wearing a rumpled coat and a baseball cap. When a bailiff told him to take the cap off, he did and said he was sorry.

Nuttall told Conklin that Baker, while on the lam, had seen Fresno psychologist Dr. Allan Hedberg. Nuttall said the goal was to get Baker into an inpatient mental hospital.

According to Hedberg’s report, Baker can remember things from his past like his childhood, but “his short-term memory is shot,” Nuttall said.

Because Hedberg said Baker doesn’t have Alzheimer's and is not mentally ill, he can’t be admitted into a mental hospital, Nuttall said.

“But the report does say he suffers from dementia,” Nuttall said.

Hedberg wanted Baker to be admitted into a nursing home, but Nuttall said he rejected the idea because the people there are typically seriously ill, and he didn’t want Baker to become sick.

Instead, Nuttall said his plan was to hire a nurse to take care of Baker in his home. Nuttall also told Conklin his investigator would make sure Baker attends court hearings and gets to his doctor appointments.

Conklin, however, rejected Nuttall’s suggestion. Instead, he ordered a bailiff to take Baker into custody.

“He looked me in the eye and said he would comply with the court,” Conklin said. “But he failed.”

In ordering jail, Conklin took note of Hedberg’s opinion that Baker’s dementia could worsen and his life span could be shortened. So while in jail, Baker will be evaluated by the jail’s medical staff, the judge said. “I’m hoping he gets better, not worse,” Conklin said.

And if Baker is released from jail because of overcrowding, jail staff will contact Nuttall, Conklin ruled. “The last thing we want is for Mr. Baker to be in front of the jail in a wheelchair waiting for a ride,” Conklin said.

Before ending court, the judge scheduled a hearing on Tuesday to revisit Nuttall’s motion to keep Baker out of jail.

Court records say the girl secretly videotaped Baker as he allegedly fondled and kissed her breasts. Baker, who is president of Sierra Telephone Co. in Oakhurst, contends he was ensnared in a blackmail scheme by a band of gypsies and was tricked into touching the girl.

He could face up to eight years in prison if he is convicted on the molestation charge.

Since his arrest in October 2009, Baker, who has been free on $50,000 bail, has been the subject of at least three bizarre twists.

He made news in June 2013 for firing a gun inside a motel room in Merced. In September of that year he was reported to be kidnapped — a claim that was later debunked by authorities.

In March 2012, Baker attended one of his court hearings looking beaten up. He said he had been mugged.

Over the years, his trial has been delayed several times because of his health. He has undergone open-heart surgery for an artificial aortic valve and also had a tracheotomy.

His mental health became an issue on Aug. 14, when Conklin suspended criminal proceedings after Nuttall called his client's competency into question.

Since the Aug. 14 ruling, Baker has failed to meet with Drs. Harold Seymour and Paula Willis, Nuttall said.

Wednesday, Nuttall found himself apologizing to the court again. He told Conklin that Baker truly doesn’t understand what's going on. “It goes in one ear and out the other,” he told the judge. “He is not willfully violating the court's order. He just can't be where he is supposed to be.”

Outside court, Nuttall said he wasn’t sure where Baker was hiding while a fugitive. “I think in a motel,” he said.

To ease Baker’s fears, Nuttall told him to relax. “This is another learning experience in your life,” he told Baker. “You’re an amazing man. Hang in there.”