The Last Resort Exoneration Project, launched almost two years ago at Seton Hall University School of Law, filed its first petition on Tuesday, seeking to overturn a nearly 17-year-old double murder conviction.
The program, which provides pro bono investigative and legal assistance, has taken on the case of Kevin Baker, who was 25 years old when he started serving a 60-year-to-life term for the Jan. 28, 1995, shooting deaths of Rodney “Rock” Turner and Margaret “Murph” Wilson in Camden.
The 200-page motion for a new trial and petition for postconviction relief in State v. Baker, Ind. No. 95-08-1950, in Camden County, says new scientific evidence proves Baker could not have committed the crime and newly discovered evidence indicates the state withheld exculpatory information and proffered willfully false and misleading testimony.
The scientific evidence does not involve DNA testing but reports from a forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, and a ballistics expert, Lucien Haag.
Baker, described as a “sometime street corner drug seller trying to straighten out his life,” was convicted along with Sean Washington, characterized as the “main target” of the murder investigation, “a well known drug dealer” and a member of the gang known as the 8-Ball Posse.
The petition says Baker was charged along with Washington because police investigator Harry Glemser of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, misinterpreted the autopsy.
Glemser allegedly developed a mistaken belief in a second shooter based on the four apparent bullet wounds to the two bodies compared with only three 9 mm shell casings recovered at the scene.
In fact, one of the bullets caused two of the wounds, passing through Wilson’s head and into her left arm, as Baden concluded, meaning there was no second shooter, the petition says.
It says that the state’s own forensic pathologist admitted as much at trial, but Baker’s defense lawyer, Assistant Deputy Public Defender Frederick Gumminger, “apparently failed to grasp the significance at the time,” providing part of the basis for an ineffective assistance of counsel argument.
The opinions from Baden and Haag undercut the testimony of Denise Rand, who identified Baker as the second shooter and provided the sole eyewitness testimony, says the petition.
Rand said both victims were shot standing up while the experts say Wilson must have been lying on the ground.
In the course of the police interview at which Rand fingered Baker as the second shooter, she first said that “Stuff” (aka Washington) and “J.D.” did the shootings, but after the interviewing officer corrected her, saying it was “K.B.,” she used those initials in talking about the second shooter, according to the petition.
Lesley Risinger, one of the two Seton Hall law professors who constitute the Last Resort — the other is her husband D. Michael Risinger — says she learned what happened at the interview by listening to the tapes because transcripts sometimes omit things.
“You can hear the officer thinking, ‘this is going off the rails,’ so he interrupts her and says ‘you mean K.B.,’” says Risinger.
She calls it an “extreme example of tunnel vision, the cognitive bias toward a certain result” that leads a person to close off his or her mind to “information that does not confirm that preformed view.”
Baker had an alibi, from his girlfriend Michelle Redden, who said both of them returned home a few hours before the 5:45 a.m. shooting and remained there the rest of the night and the next day, when they saw TV coverage of the shootings.
The petition says that Glemser said Redden gave a false alibi, claiming to have seen a show not broadcast at the time she said it was and that Redden said at the time that Glemser was mistaken about what she told him but everyone, including the defense attorneys, believed Glemser.
Now, the Risingers assert they have evidence from TV broadcast archives at Temple University that corroborates Redden’s account. Her reputation as “an upright person with no criminal record” was “inappropriately trashed by Investigator Glemser in order to eliminate a pesky alibi witness who would have undermined the case against the ‘second shooter’” he thought he needed, says the petition.
Redden is now sick with terminal cancer and Risinger wants to get an official record of her testimony, including cross-examination by the prosecutor.
In April, however, Judge Samuel Natal, the same judge who tried Baker and denied PCR, refused Risinger’s request to order the deposition, a ruling she says is now on appeal.
Yet another piece of evidence she hopes will further Baker’s case is a statement from another 8-Ball Posse member that neither Washington nor Baker committed the crimes. Instead, it was a single shooter named Raheem “Radio” Miller, also a gang member, who died in prison in 2002 while serving time for shooting someone in the head.
The petition states, “This might seem a rather convenient story, but it is corroborated by other information.”
Risinger’s best-case scenario is that a judge will not only vacate Baker’s conviction but dismiss the indictment. She hopes at least for a new trial.
“When we present evidence that powerfully undermines a conviction, what we ask is for the system to be open and give the person a hearing,” she says.
Jason Laughlin, public information officer for the prosecutor’s office, confirms that the office was served with Baker’s papers, but declines comment.
Westmont solo Edward Crisonino, a private lawyer who handled Baker’s direct appeal and first petition for postconviction relief (PCR), filed in 1999, which was denied, had not yet had the chance to read the papers served on him, but says “I hope Kevin wins.”
Crisonino says he does not know whether Baker is guilty — “I wasn’t there” — but adds, “Do I think his guilt was proven at trial? No.”
Also served was Louis Miron, a Westfield solo appointed by the public defender to represent Baker in appealing the denial of PCR.
Neither Miron nor the Public Defender’s Office returned a call.
Glemser, retired from the prosecutor’s office and working as a private investigator, did not respond to a request for comment.
The website for his Monroeville-based business, Glemser Confidential Investigative Services, ispyforu.com, refers to his 28 years of experience in law enforcement, boasting that he had a 98 percent solve rate for homicides and never lost a court case.