The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder convictions of a home invader who targeted Hispanics during a series of such robberies in 2007.
A jury in 2008 deliberated less than two hours before finding Raymon S. Baker guilty in the fatal shootings of Marcelo Rivera, 45, and Isaias Bartolon, 15, on April 8, 2007, at Lot 63 of Columbus’ Winterfield Mobile Home Park, 400 29th Ave.
Baker was convicted of two counts of murder, six of armed robbery, four of attempted armed robbery, nine of aggravated assault and two of burglary. Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters sentenced him to three consecutive life sentences after the trial, which followed Baker’s pleading guilty to armed robbery and two counts of aggravated assault in another case involving the robbery of a Lewis Jones grocery store. He got a 15-year sentence for that.
Baker’s murder trial ended Nov. 17, 2008. Two of his co-defendants’ cases were concluded just days earlier: Thomas Houston pleaded guilty Nov. 5 to two counts of murder, seven of attempted armed robbery, 13 of armed robbery, 20 of aggravated assault and four of burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison. His brother Cassinova Houston pleaded guilty Nov. 7, 2008, to two counts of voluntary manslaughter, 18 of aggravated assault, 10 of armed robbery, nine of attempted armed robbery and three of burglary. Having cooperated with prosecutors, he got 20 years in prison.
Today's state Supreme Court decision includes a recap of the evidence, which shows two home invasions happened that night in 2007: At 10:40 p.m., four masked men entered the back door of a Hispanic man’s apartment and forced nine people inside to go into the living room, where they were robbed of cash, cell phones and gold chains. The victims were pistol-whipped and hit with pipes.
Around 11:15 p.m., someone knocked on the door of a trailer in the nearby Winterfield trailer park. When resident Eimar Bartolon opened the door, three masked me forced their way in. One had a rifle; the other two had metal pipes with which they started beating Bartolon and his relatives, who fought back.
Rudibel Bartolon fought with one of the raiders until a fourth intruder armed with a .22-caliber pistol came in and hit him. The intruder with the rifle forced Eimar Bartolon’s teenage brother Isaias into the trailer’s bathroom as Eimar Bartolon pushed one of the pipe-wielding bandits onto a front porch.
Rivera, a neighbor, heard the ruckus and rushed over to help. A robber in front of the trailer started firing a handgun at Eimar Bartolon on the porch until he ducked for cover. Then the intruders fled.
Behind they left Rivera lying in the street, shot in the waist and back by a .22-caliber gun. Inside the trailer, Isaias Bartolon lay on the floor, dead from a point-blank shot to the head.
On the porch police later found a dark knit cap. A test showed it had DNA evidence matching Baker.
During Baker’s trial, Cassinova Houston testified that Baker that night was the robber armed with a 7.62-caliber Norinko SKS rifle. Cassinova Houston said his brother Thomas Houston had the .22-caliber pistol that killed Isaias Bartolon and fatally wounded Rivera.
Cassinova Houston said he and another accomplice, Jessie Willis, were armed with metal pipes.
After his conviction, Baker appealed for a new trial, arguing his attorney could not effectively defend him because Judge Peters and the prosecutor kept interrupting the defense lawyer as he tried to cross-examine Cassinova Houston.
After holding an evidentiary hearing on May 8, 2012, a Superior Court judge here rejected Baker’s new trial motion on July 19, 2012.
On Jan. 3 of this year, Baker appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which rejected his contentions in its decision announced today. Police said the fatal shootings were among a string of similar robberies targeting Hispanics between February and April 2007.