State Supreme Court Set to Rule in Death Penalty Case

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The California Supreme Court is set to rule today on an automatic appeal in the case of a man who is on death row for raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend, whose decomposing body was discovered in the Palm Springs area.

Paul Wesley Baker, now 59, was sentenced to death in January 2009 after being convicted of first-degree murder, rape and other charges stemming from the 2004 death of his former girlfriend, Judy Palmer, 60, of Reseda.

Palmer's decomposing body was found on May 11, 2004, by a transient near Interstate 10 and Gene Autry Trail in the Palm Springs area.

Authorities were not able to determine how she had been killed.

At Baker's sentencing, Judge Susan M. Speer said the killing “took place in revenge and anger'' after Palmer rejected the defendant and that the victim's limbs were “tied together in a fetal position'' and her body was left in an “isolated'' desert area.

Jurors also found Baker guilty of three counts involving two other women who were sexually assaulted on separate occasions, but acquitted him of sex-related charges involving two more women.

The judge noted that Baker had demonstrated a “pattern of criminality and violence against women.''

While he had an “extremely harsh and impoverished childhood,'' which may have contributed to his problems with substance abuse, those circumstances did not cause Baker to commit murder, the judge said then.

Los Angeles police said shortly after Baker's arrest that he and Palmer were involved in a volatile relationship and that he had previously been arrested on April 5, 2004, after forcing his way into Palmer's apartment.

Baker remained in police custody until April 15, 2004. Palmer was reported missing by relatives three days later.

He was arrested the following month and has remained behind bars since then.

In his opening brief, Baker's appellate attorney contended that his client's trial was “decidedly unfair and violated fundamental notions of due process'' and that there was insufficient evidence to find that he raped or attempted to rape his ex-girlfriend.

In its response brief, the California Attorney General's Office countered that jurors could “reasonably conclude that appellant bound Judy to facilitate his forcible commission of sexual acts against her while she remained alive and thereafter murdered her to prevent her from identifying and inculpating him in the sexual offenses.''

Photo: Getty Images

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