W. Pa. interstate-sex kidnapping suspect detained

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PITTSBURGH – A Western Pennsylvania veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder must remain in jail until he stands trial on federal charges that he took a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex, a federal magistrate ruled Monday.


Joshua Baker, 31, of Leeper, was charged by state authorities with kidnapping the girl whom he had allegedly met through relatives and begun a sexual relationship with last summer when she was 12.


Baker was arrested with the girl in Martin, S.D., April 6, some nine days after he left Pennsylvania with the girl. She told authorities they first tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas but were turned away because she didn’t have a passport, FBI Agent Robert Smith testified. Baker and his public defender contest the girl’s claim that they tried to enter Mexico but didn’t specifically object to any other details of Smith’s testimony.


U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan determined that Baker was too much of a danger to the community and a risk to flee prosecution for her to release him on house arrest to live with his father, David Baker, of Tionesta, who testified by phone because his health precluded the two-hour trip to Pittsburgh.


David Baker said his son’s behavior has changed for the worse since serving with the military in Iraq and that he has sought counseling and taken medication. He didn’t specify when or for which branch his son served.


“He behaves like a 15- or 16-year-old would, rather childlike in his decision-making,” David Baker testified, adding that his son “doesn’t seem to connect the dots in understanding the consequences of his actions.”


Though Joshua Baker’s federal public defender argued that his PTSD would make pretrial release fairer, the prosecutor argued it would make releasing Baker riskier, and Lenihan agreed.


The girl was last seen at home at about 2 a.m. March 28 by her younger brother, who saw her grab a backpack and say she was “going out to visit a friend for a walk,” Smith, the FBI agent, testified.


State charges of kidnapping a minor and interfering with custody were dropped when federal authorities took over the investigation and obtained the grand jury indictment on charges that carry a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence should Baker be convicted. The girl couldn’t legally consent to leave or have sex with Baker because of her age.


Baker met the girl at a family function last summer because his cousin is the fiance of the girl’s mother, Smith testified.


Baker apparently planned to run away with the girl because he went with his wife to a car dealership with $5,000 from an insurance claim, looking to purchase a vehicle the day before he and the girl left Pennsylvania. When Baker’s wife went to the restroom, Baker left with the money, dropped a letter in his home mailbox telling his wife he wanted a divorce and drove away in the couple’s car.


Baker was arrested two days after an optical store clerk in South Dakota saw him and the girl and called police. The clerk told police she was suspicious because Baker told her the girl was his sister, even though they were holding hands.


Another employee wrote down Baker’s license plate number, and that evening, the clerk went on the Internet and found a notice that the girl had disappeared from her home the previous month. The clerk then called the police in Rapid City, S.D., and in Clarion, Pa.


Rapid City police tried to catch Baker when he was scheduled to bring the girl back for an appointment at the eyeglasses store on April 5, but they never showed. Instead, police in Martin, S.D., spotted the car at a Dairy Queen on April 6.


The girl was identified at Monday’s hearing, but the Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sex crimes.


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