LANCASTER, PA — The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the conviction of a Lancaster County killer last week upholding Michael Baker’s life sentence and denying the four claims the defendant argued on appeal, announced Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams.
Baker presented four issues on appeal: whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant signed by Magisterial District Judge Raymond Sheller; whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to dismiss the charges pursuant to Rule 600; whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress a witness’ identification of him through in an overly suggestive photo lineup; and whether the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions when no direct evidence established that he had entered the victim’s home
Baker was convicted of second-degree murder in Sept. 2021 and sentenced to life in prison in Dec. 2021 for the murder of Dennis Pitch in Salisbury Township in 2016.
Baker first alleged in his appeal that there was “at least an appearance of impropriety” requiring Magisterial District Judge Raymond Sheller to recuse himself from the case. MDJ Sheller, who lived on the same street as the victim, provided Pennsylvania State Police with his personal video surveillance footage from the night of the murder. MDJ Sheller was canvassed as part of PSP’s canvas and investigators found no relevant information in the footage. The video was not admitted into evidence or referenced at Baker’s trial.
The Superior Court stated in its opinion that MDJ Sheller’s involvement – signing search warrants over a year-and-a-half after the incident – in the case was exceedingly brief. MDJ Sheller also had no personal knowledge of the crime or relationship to the victim.
Second, Baker argued that Rule 600’s time limitations expired by the initial trial date and the court abused its discretion in refusing to dismiss the charges. Rule 600 states a case must be called to trial or a plea must be tendered 365 days from the date in which the criminal complaint is filed.
The Superior Court found that “only 176 days not attributable to delay by Baker passed before his initial trial date,” as Baker himself requested two continuances and waived his right to be tried within 365 days.
Third, Baker argued that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to suppress a witness’ identification of him through a photo array.
The witness stated he was in the vehicle with a person with black hair on the night of the murder. Law enforcement showed the witness a photo array in which Baker was bald with a long, black beard. The witness began referring to Baker as the person with the black beard after viewing the array.
Baker argues other individuals in the array did not have beards of similar length and that he was the only individual who appeared to be shirtless. The defendant also stated the lineup process was not recorded and suggested law enforcement could have influenced the witness’ identification.
The Superior Court found that Baker waived this issue because he did not submit the photos for the courts to review.
Fourth, Baker argued the Commonwealth failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he entered the victim’s home on the night in question.
The Superior Court stated in its ruling that a witness’ testimony placed Baker at the crime scene around the time of the victim’s death. That testimony was corroborated by cell phone data placing Baker in the area on the night of the crime even though he lived in Philadelphia, and Baker admitted he was in the area on the night in question.
Baker remains in state prison.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Fetterman won the trial conviction and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jonathan Potoka filed charges. Assistant District Attorney Linda Gerencser handled the case on appeal.
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