The jury that heard the evidence against embattled Catholic priest Joseph "Jack" Baker had handed a guilty verdict on Thursday. With it, the priest is formally found culpable of first-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor-age male he raped in 2004.
Details of the Case
According to The Oakland Press, the Wayne County jury issued the decision before 3rd Judicial Circuit Judge Bridget Hathaway. Baker, 60, was found guilty of sexual penetration of the boy during his stint as pastor at the St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne County.
The report mentioned that the rape survivor made Baker's abuse of him known a few years back. The victim, now in his 20s, alleged that the priest ordered him to the church sacristy to retrieve a book.
The victim said Father Baker placed on a table and raped him there. The assault allegedly occurred after an after-school religious activity.
The victim, whom authorities refused to name owing to the sensitive nature of the case, told about the incident to his father. His father, in turn, informed the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2019 about the priest's alleged sexual misconduct.
The Attorney General's Office, led by Dana Nessel, launched an investigation into the matter. Baker was arrested in 2019, after which he was suspended from the St. Perpetua Catholic Church in Waterford. The church finally terminated Baker's services last June.
The convicted priest reportedly pastored St. Mary Catholic Church from 1997 to 2008 before his stint at Perpetua.
Michigan AG Nessel lauded the jury's guilty verdict, saying it is "long-awaited."
"We must all commit to breaking down the walls of silence that so often surround sexual assault and abuse. Today's verdict is long awaited justice," she said.
Following the jury verdict, Baker will return to court on Dec. 19 for his sentencing hearing.
During the closing argument, Assistant AG Danielle Hagaman-Clark recalled the detailed testimony of Baker's victim, including "hearing heavy breathing and the sound of the table legs creaking during the assault," the Oakland Press report noted.
The Assistant AG mentioned the victim said he only wanted to 'see justice served' to the priest.
Aside from the victim's recollection of his ordeal, the Attorney General's Office presented an audio recording of the call between Baker and the victim's father. In it, Baker could be heard multiple times saying sorry to the boy's father. He also told him, "it will never happen again."
During his Wednesday testimony, however, Baker denied the allegation and explained that he was only comforting the victim's father. He argued that it was part of his 'pastoral capacity.'
Baker's defense lawyer added that the story about the priest raping the boy was 'cooked up.'
Patrick Bagley, Baker's attorney, also alleged the accuser was a troubled young man who wanted to gain his parents' attention. Bagley said the victim's parents had their full attention on the victim's severely autistic sibling, the report noted.