Courts & Crime

82-year-old former politician accused of molesting 13-year-old girl

The lawyer for former Madera County Supervisor Harry Baker says police interviews show the 13-year-old girl he's accused of molesting and her parents agreed with Baker that he was set up.

Attorney Richard Berman recounted the interviews in a motion he filed Friday in Fresno County Superior Court. The motion seeks additional information about the girl and her family, such as from county Child Protective Services reports, that he learned about from the interviews.

Berman said he needs the information before he can defend Baker, 82, on a felony charge of committing a lewd act with the girl.

Baker, president of the Sierra Telephone Co. in Oakhurst, was arrested Oct. 5 after detectives obtained a video recording that showed him fondling the girl in a Fresno motel in May 2007.

Free on bail, Baker has maintained from the beginning that he was set up. And while the statements quoted by his attorney appear to confirm that claim, they may have little to do with his guilt or innocence, one legal expert said.

Fresno attorney Michael Idiart, a former Fresno County assistant district attorney who is not connected to the Baker case, said the key issue will be whether Baker touched the girl for sexual gratification.

And no matter what, Baker "should have known better than to be in a motel room with young girls," Idiart said.

In his court filing, Berman quoted reports by Fresno police detective Robert Holguin. The detective said the girl told him her 27-year-old cousin, who was posing as a 16-year-old, secretly recorded video of her with Baker in the man's motel room. The girl said she agreed to the scheme because her cousin promised her money and a car.

The plan was to tell Baker that she had "bumps in her breasts and on her vagina" and that he should check them, the girl told the detective.

In the motel room, Baker did touch her body, but he looked "freaked out," as though he couldn't believe what he was doing, the girl said. She also told Holguin that Baker had never touched her before or after the incident.

The girl's parents, also interviewed by Holguin, corroborated her account.

Berman's motion said Baker -- a longtime family friend -- ended up in the motel room with the girl and her cousin after the girl's mother went to him for help.

The girl's mother told Holguin that Baker paid for the room so she and her children and niece could escape her abusive husband. Baker also stayed at the motel, but in another room.

The mother told Holguin she was asleep in her room when the incident occurred and only learned of it later from her daughter.

Baker contends he later had to pay $50,000 in blackmail money to the girl's father. Police say they are investigating that claim, but have not charged anyone in the family with a crime.

Berman maintains that Baker was just trying to help the girl out. Baker was in a robe, relaxing in his room, when the 13-year-old girl asked him to check bumps on her body, Berman said.

"She needed help. What's he supposed to do?" Berman said in an interview Monday.

In his investigation, Holguin questioned the girl about Baker's intent.

"Alleged victim advised that it did not appear suspect Baker was enjoying the fact that he was touching her," Holguin said, according to Berman's motion.

Berman's motion will be heard April 9.

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office declined to comment Monday, but said a response would be filed later this month.

The girl and her attorney have sued Baker in Fresno County Superior Court, accusing him of child molestation. In their civil lawsuit, they are seeking unspecified damages. Baker has counter-sued the girl's family.

Read the full story at the Fresno Bee.