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Suspect in Vernon Hills murder eligible for death penalty
By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff

Daniel Baker

 

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Published: 5/5/2010 2:13 PM | Updated: 5/5/2010 4:27 PM

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The Deerfield man accused of killing his girlfriend's mother could face the death penalty if convicted of the crime.

A Lake County grand jury on Wednesday indicted Daniel Baker, 21, on nine counts of first-degree murder, including counts that provide for the ultimate punishment.

Baker is accused of beating to death Marina Aksman, 50, with a baseball bat after he forced his way into the Aksman home in Vernon Hills during the early morning hours of April 1.

Deputy State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic said the capital counts against Baker allege he committed the murder during the course of another felony, home invasion.

Police said Baker was enraged at Marina Aksman's efforts to end his relationship with her daughter, Kristina Aksman, 20.

Just hours before the murder, police said, Marina Aksman drove to Baker's home to retrieve her daughter after leaving a voice-mail message for Baker telling him he was never going to see the girl again.

After the women left Baker's house, Baker left a voice-mail message of his own on the Aksmans' telephone that police said included a threat.

"Marina ruined everything, and guess what? Now there is going to be trouble," officials quoted Baker in his message. "Now it is over; you don't mess with Daniel Baker."

A short time later, police said, Baker crashed his car into the front of the Aksman residence in Gregg's Landing and smashed his way through the back door with an aluminum baseball bat.

He confronted Marina Aksman in a first-floor bedroom, police said, and as her daughter looked on struck her several times in the head with the bat.

Baker then took Kristina Aksman, some cash and the victim's 2009 Nissan Rouge and fled the state, police said. He was captured five days later in Cut Bank, Montana.

Officers from the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force who went to Montana said Baker confessed to the crime, and they recovered clothing of Baker's that appeared to be bloodstained.

Kristina Aksman was not charged in the case, Pavletic said, because officials are convinced she was not aware of what Baker planned to do and did nothing to assist him.

Prosecutors will have 120 days from the date of Baker's arraignment, set for May 13 before Circuit Judge Fred Foreman, to declare if they intend to seek the death penalty.

State law allows extensions of that deadline, and such extensions are frequently requested and granted by judges.

Pavletic said State's Attorney Michael Waller will invite Baker's defense team of Chicago attorney Ed Genson and Michael Nerhiem of Waukegan to present him with whatever evidence they can gather to convince him not to seek the death penalty for their client.

Waller will take that information and consider it along with facts about the crime and Baker's background that police have gathered, Pavletic said.

"Mr. Waller will be thorough and deliberate in his review of all the facts regarding this matter and will consider the wishes of the victim's family as well," Pavletic said. "Ultimately, the decision on how we proceed in this case will be his."

At Baker's April 9 bond hearing, Genson indicated he may mount an insanity defense for Baker when he told a judge his client was "not legally responsible for his actions," at the time of Aksman's death.

Genson would not elaborate on the statement following the bond hearing, nor would Nerhiem on Wednesday, although Nerhiem said the defense team was looking forward to meeting with Waller.

"We believe with all our hearts that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment in this case," he said. "We welcome the opportunity to discuss what we know about our client with Mr. Waller and hope we will be able to convince him we are correct in our assessment."

Pavletic said not all murder cases charged as death-eligible in Lake County actually move forward in that manner.

The county has three pending capital cases.

Jerry Hobbs III will face the death penalty when he goes on trial in October for the Mother's Day 2005 murders of his 8-year-old daughter and another girl.

James Ealy, accused of the 2006 murder of a Lindenhurst restaurant manager, and Montego Suggs, charged with the 2007 slaying of a Waukegan check-cashing facility clerk, are face the death penalty but their trial dates have not yet been set.

Baker is held without bond.