(Update at 1:50 p.m.) Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes ruled Monday Deerfield native Daniel Baker was guilty but mentally ill in the grisly April 2010 murder of his girlfriend’s mother, Marine Aksman of Vernon Hills.
That ruling could mean Baker will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Shanes said Baker did not act with premeditation when he repeatedly struck Marina Aksman with a baseball bat in her Vernon Hills home after the victim had called him “bipolar” and told him that she was cutting off the relationship with her daughter, Kristina Aksman, but instead went into a tirade.
A guilty but mentally ill verdict means the defendant had issues that impaired his judgment but he was cognizant of what he was doing. “This is truly a sad and tragic case of senseless violence set off by rage,” he said.
Shanes acknowledged Baker did have mental issues, but they did not rise to the level of insanity since he was aware of what he was doing. The judge added that just by suffering from mental issues does not absolve him from the crime and by doing so, that would be an insult to all the other people who also have mental issues.
Shanes said Baker will eventually be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. The next court date is Nov. 26 in Waukegan for post trial motions with a sentencing date to come after that. Prosecutors said they will ask for life in prison.
Shanes discussed the evidence presented to him of the April 1, 2010, fatal attack on Marina Aksman. He said the evidence clearly showed Baker carried out the crime, even though her daughter was present at the time.
“She suffered from a prolonged and repeated beating,” Shanes said. “What the defendant did was vicious and barbaric.”
Another key factor in the Shanes’s decision was the chain of events after the crime Baker and Kristina drove off before eventually being apprehended in Montana.
“The most obvious part of the evidence is the defendant knew to flee,” Shanes said. He also noted Baker helped Kristina Aksman pack for the trip, used an alias and avoided a border as he would not have to use a passport.
“Everything he did was intelligent, in fact Mr. Baker is intelligent,” Shanes noted.
After being apprehended, Baker had a long conversation with authorities which was another factor in the ruling by the judge. “The defendant had a perceptive question over whether the Lake County Police could arrest somebody out of Illinois,” Shanes said.
That five hour conversation was a turning point in the case for both sides.
“That was very helpful because it showed the defendant was thinking clearly and was able to carry on a conversation with a police officer,” Ari Fisz, one of the Lake County Assistant State’s Attorneys who tried the case, said.
Defense attorney Ed Genson said that statement should have been suppressed which could be grounds for an appeal as well as whether Baker was competent enough to stand trial.
Baker sat with his head down for most of the hearing and nodded positively his head in the direction of his family toward the end of the statement by the judge.
“We are very pleased with the verdict,” Fisz added. “Most importantly the victim’s family is very pleased with it as well. We figured Judge Shanes was going to go this way.”
Genson said it was a fair trial and complimented Shanes. He added it is a very difficult burden to prove insanity today.
“The insanity laws have been changed dramatically since Hinckley,” Genson said referring to the gunman of the 1981 assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan. “We now have to show by clear and convincing evidence that he was insane and the definition of insanity itself has changed. They have to not understand what they did was criminal.”
Genson, who has represented Rod Blagojevich, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Chicago), and singer R. Kelly in a long career, acknowledged this was one of his most challenging cases.
“He was the most difficult client I ever had,” Genson said. “Partially because I do believe he needed medication and partially because he did find it difficult to cooperate with counsel.”
Neither the Aksman nor the Baker family chose to comment following the session.
“This was about as terrible a crime scene as you can imagine” Fisz said of why he going to ask for a life sentence. “Marina Aksman was a nice lady. She cared about her family and all she was trying to do was protect her kids.”
(Earlier at 10:43 a.m.) A Deerfield man was found guilty today in Lake County Criminal court in Waukegan of murdering over two years ago.
Lake County Criminal Court Judge Daniel Shanes said in his ruling Daniel Baker of Deerfield understood the criminal nature of his act despite being mentally ill. The victim's family had no comment immediately after the verdict.
Earlier: Judge Decides Baker’s Fate Monday
Baker faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, according to Shanes. No date has been set for sentencing.
Shanes took the weekend to consider the evidence and testimony gathered over the seven day bench trial regarding whether Baker was legally sane when he allegedly killed the mother of his then girlfriend in an act of rage.
Marina Aksman was killed in her Vernon Hills home April 1, 2010, after Baker broke into the home and hit her in the head with a baseball hat, according to testimony offered during the trial.
Aksman had called Baker “bipolar” in a voice mail and would not allow him to see her daughter, Kristina Aksman, according to trial testimony. That set off Baker to come to Aksman home.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Baker was aware of what he was doing when he attacked Marina Aksman and committed the crime in front of her daughter. Baker and Kristina Aksman were picked up in Montana days after the crime. She was not charged with the murder.
Baker, 24, was represented by high profile defense attorney Ed Genson who argued Friday his client was not legally sane at the time of the crime and could not comprehend the gravity of his actions. Genson added Baker had suffered from mental disabilities all his life and Kristina Aksman was his first serious girlfriend.
Baker declined to testify on his own behalf during the trial, invoking the Fifth Amendment.