Boise man convicted in shaken baby death seeks new trial

The guilty verdict brought against Jeffery Alan Baker in a 2013 trial was “contrary to the evidence presented at trial,” according to claims raised in a motion for a new trial.

Boise attorney Randall Barnum claims the Ada County jury that convicted Baker of first-degree murder had no basis for ruling out that 11-week-old Gracelynn Noelle Baker might have died from other than criminal means.

“If the jury could not have reasonably excluded natural causes as the cause of death, then the jury could not have found Mr. Baker guilty beyond all reasonable doubt,” Barnum wrote in his motion before 4th District Judge Patrick Owen.

Baker, now 55, was sentenced in October 2013 to life in prison. He must serve 15 years before he becomes eligible for parole.

The infant was taken to St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center on May 10, 2010. She died four days later, after being removed from life support. Authorities said she died from an abusive head injury.

Physicians called by the prosecution and the defense in the trial disagreed whether Gracelynn showed signs of being fatally shaken.

Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams, who specializes in central nervous system tumors in infants and children at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, testified for the prosecution that Gracelynn was injured from being shaken, lost consciousness and later slumped forward, cutting off her air supply and causing her death.

Dr. John Plunkett, a Minnesota pathologist and a leading critic of shaken baby syndrome, said the infant died from natural causes from a blood clot in her head. Plunkett and other critics say medical evidence is lacking that shaking alone could cause brain injury to a baby.

According to Barnum, the jury found that Baker shook his daughter hard enough to cause brain damage or render her unconscious but did not leave any outward signs of injury, which should have been seen in a case of shaken baby syndrome.

Deputy Ada County Prosecutor Shelley Akamatsu called Barnum’s request outrageous.

“The defendant is now requesting the court do what is specifically prohibited by law: substitute its views for that of the jury as to the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given to the testimony and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence,” she wrote.

No hearing has been scheduled on Barnum’s motion.

Owen previously found there was “substantial evidence” upon which the jury could rely beyond a reasonable doubt in finding that Baker killed his daughter.

According to Barnum:

Shawna LeBleu , now 40, became pregnant with Gracelynn after dating Baker briefly in spring 2009. They were not a couple when Gracelynn was born Feb. 17, 2010.

Soon after her birth, Gracelynn was removed from her mother’s custody. LeBleu had used methamphetamine and marijuana while she was pregnant, Barnum wrote. Gracelynn was initially placed in foster care before state welfare caseworkers placed her with Baker.

Kris Elliott, a Boise woman whom Barnum described as Baker’s former girlfriend, routinely watched Gracelynn at her home in Southwest Boise while Baker worked as a plumber.

On the day Gracelynn was injured, Elliott reported that she noticed a dent on the girl’s forehead. She said she had difficulty feeding her and that Gracelynn was spitting up excessively, choking, coughing and had formula coming out of her nose.

After a nap, Gracelynn began crying intensely. The child was crying so hard that Elliott said she got upset and started crying too. Elliott told police she looked in the girl’s eyes and sensed she was “not there.”

Baker retrieved his daughter from Elliott and returned to his home in Southwest Boise at 4:30 p.m. Neighbors told police the girl appeared normal when they saw Baker bring her home.

About an hour later, Baker banged on a neighbor’s door with Gracelynn in his arms. The girl was pale and unconscious. The neighbors called 911. Paramedics arrived and performed CPR. She was taken to the pediatric unit at St. Luke’s, where she later died.

At trial, prosecutors said Baker did not call 911 but told a neighbor that the baby lost consciousness while choking on formula as he fed her. Baker later told police the baby choked on formula after he left her alone in another room.