UWCHLAN >> The fiancée of the man accused of throwing a sucker punch at a disabled man in West Chester on Tuesday appeared at District Court and waived her preliminary hearing on charges she helped him avoid capture during a two-week run from law enforcement authorities.
Denise Ranae Schmidt will see her case transferred to Common Pleas Court, where she will face charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, a second-degree misdemeanor, for actions she took on behalf of Barry Robert Baker Jr. while he was wanted in Chester County on two bench warrants.
In the brief proceeding before Magisterial District Judge William Kraut, Schmidt, 48, of Georgetown, Delaware, was accompanied by her attorney, Thomas H. Ramsay of West Chester, and a sister. She remains free on bail.
“She waived her hearings as an acceptance of responsibility for her actions,” Ramsay said afterwards. “It’s another form of cooperation with the authorities.”
Ramsay said that Schmidt had attempted to alert police to Baker’s whereabouts while he was a fugitive, but that the information she provided “did not prove fruitful. She was trying to help, but found herself in a difficult situation. It’s a long story.”
According to the criminal complaint filed by Chester County Detective Keith Cowdright, however, in addition to keeping his whereabouts a secret from police, Schmidt helped arrange and pay for the hotel room where Baker was hiding when he was ultimately taken into custody June 5.
If convicted, Schmidt — a mother of three who lived with Baker in Delaware after he moved there from East Fallowfield — faces a possible sentence of up to two years in state prison. She has no serious prior criminal record, however, and would likely be sentenced to something less.
The events that brought Schmidt to face criminal charges began May 10 outside a 7-Eleven in West Chester, where Baker, a 29-year-old landscaper with a record of petty thefts and other crimes, was standing with friends. A man drove up to the front, got out and walked into the store. As he did, Baker mimicked the way the man, who has cerebral palsy, walked.
When the man came out of the store, Baker again made fun of his walk. The man turned to speak to Baker, and when he did, Baker threw a punch at him, striking him in the face. Baker then walked away. Police were later able to identify him, and he was subsequently charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct.
The encounter, however, had been recorded by the 7-Eleven’s surveillance camera. West Chester police and the District Attorney’s Office released the tape to the public, and it gained almost instant notoriety on the internet. Baker, who had been processed and released on bail pending a preliminary hearing, became a pariah. Warrants for violation of his probation on theft charges and failure to pay child support were issued.
According to Cowdright’s complaint, between May 22 and June 5, members of the U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force were in contact with several members of Baker’s family and other associates, including Schmidt, attempting to locate Baker. His attorney at the time, Francis Miller of West Chester, was also in contact with him about the bench warrants, advising Baker to turn himself in.
Schmidt, the detective said, knew of the warrants and spoke with multiple police officers from several agencies about them. She was also intimately aware of the media coverage that Baker’s case was getting and the reward that had been issued for his capture. He came to the house they shared in Georgetown, Delaware, the week before his capture, but she failed to alert police to his whereabouts.
In Cowdright’s complaint, he said that Schmidt — who was in near constant contact with Baker by phone and text message during the time period — and another person, identified as “Witness 1” — rented a room at the Clarion Hotel in Uwchlan June 4, telling Baker about the room by phone after he instructed her to get him a room to stay in.
Schmidt paid for the room with cash and registered under her friend’s name, then left the room key outside the hotel under an ashtray outside the building while she went to get food, cash, and a prepaid cellphone for Baker to use, the affidavit states. When she came back, Baker was in the room. She left the room several times that night to smoke a cigarette, but never alerted police to Baker’s whereabouts.
The morning of his capture, units from the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the county Sheriff’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit, after having been tipped off about Baker’s whereabouts, burst into Room 118 at the hotel on Route 100 and took Baker into custody.
Those actions were praised Tuesday morning, as District Attorney Tom Hogan — who made it a mission to track Baker down — presented the county Sheriff’s Office with a commendation. Accepting the plaque on behalf of the department was Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, Chief of Staff Jason Suydam, and members of the department’s fugitive unit.
The plaque cited the task force’s “outstanding diligence and commitment,” and acknowledged that its work seldom generates attention because its members operate beneath the radar. “We sure as heck don’t tell people how you do it because we don’t want the bad guys to know how you end up catching them and bringing them in,” Hogan said.
In a news release, Welsh said she appreciated Hogan’s remarks as well as the positive relationship her office has with county prosecutors. “We’re fortunate to enjoy such a good working relationship,” she said. “That doesn’t always exist everywhere else.
“I’m extremely proud of the (fugitive unit) and the multi-agency cooperation they continue to demonstrate,” Welsh added.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.