Man serving multiple life sentences for murder asks for a new trial

A man serving multiple life sentences for murder argued in court Tuesday that he should have a new trial, claiming the judge who presided over his 2008 case kept interrupting his attorney and making him ineffective.

Raymond S. Baker, 25, was convicted of the April 2007 murders of Marcelo Rivera, 45, and Isaias Bartolon, 15. Serving three consecutive life sentences, Baker appeared Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Gil McBride with appellate attorney Anton Rowe in his effort to have the convictions placed aside and get a new trial.

The crux of Baker’s push for a new trial was in the testimony of defense attorney Michael Garner, who represented Baker at his 2008 trial. Garner claimed Tuesday that Judge Bobby Peters, who presided over Baker’s trial four years ago, interrupted several times as he tried to cross-examine a codefendant, Cassinova Houston.

Rowe said those interruptions made Garner ineffective because he was unable to completely question the witness. That violated Baker’s constitutional rights and warrants a new trial, he said.

“It’s the worst example of a trial by judge that I’ve seen in 40 years,” Garner said. “It kept going on. He just would not let me cross-examine Mr. Houston.”

Garner also said every time Houston was about to contradict someone else’s testimony, former Assistant District Attorney Crawford Seals would interrupt. That interruption was then followed by Peters commenting.

“He’s not doing that now,” Garner said, adding he has no current complaint about Peters. “It’s a case of ineffective assistance of counsel because the judge would not stop the prosecution from interrupting.”

Seals, now an assistant U.S. attorney, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

“My position is I made perfectly valid, legal objections or made perfectly valid, legal requests for clarification,” Seals said.

Contacted Tuesday, Peters said he was limited in any response he could give.

“The transcript of the case will speak for itself,” Peters said. “They have to make their legal arguments.”

Robert Smith, special prosecutor in the appeal, argued Peters overstepped no bounds.

Baker’s real complaint, Smith said, is that he was convicted.

Smith argued that no animus existed between Peters and Garner -- a conclusion reached when the entire transcript is read.

“It’s not borne out,” Smith added. “What is borne out is the trial judge did his job in this case.

“(The jury) came back with a decision that only they can explain, and we have to accept it. In this case, Mr. Garner did everything he could. You put forth the defense you’re given.”

Prosecutors said Baker was one of several men involved in a series of armed robberies in 2007, including the robbery of a Lewis Jones grocery store.

Baker pleaded guilty to the grocery store armed robbery a week before his murder trial and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. That sentence is consecutive to the life sentences for the murder charges.

Houston, who also faced murder charges in Rivera and Bartolon’s deaths, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and several counts of armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, McBride told the attorneys they have 15 days to file any additional arguments.

He will then make a decision on Baker’s motion for a new trial.