Thursday, March 9, 2023

Former St. Mary priest is sentenced to prison

Father Jack Baker
A former priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Wayne has vowed to appeal the prison term imposed by the court last week.

Joseph “Father Jack” Baker, 61, was found guilty and sentenced to 3-15 years in prison for the rape of an elementary student at St. Mary Catholic School during the mid-2000s. His sentencing hearing took place March 1 in Wayne County Third Circuit Court last week. Baker was found guilty on Oct. 2022 of first-degree criminal conduct-sexual penetration with a person under the age of 13. His prison sentence will be reduced by the 140 days Baker has already served in jail. 

The charges stemmed from 2004 when the alleged victim was a second-grade student at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne and Baker served as pastor of the church. The victim told law enforcement officials he was sent to the church sacristy during an after-school religious program to retrieve a book when the sexual assault occurred.

The victim, who is now in his mid-20s, only revealed the assault to his parents in 2019, according to court reports. His parents reported the allegation to the archdiocese and church officials forwarded the charge to the office of the state attorney general.  

Prosecutors claimed Baker admitted his guilt during a conversation with the victim's father, which was recorded. Prosecutors said Baker admitted his guilt and apologized for the incident while defense attorneys disputed that interpretation of the conversation.  

Six former teachers and staff members at the religious school spoke in defense of Baker and explained that the child would never have been sent to the sacristy and would not have taken part in after school religious education as these classes were only offered to non-students at the parish school. The victim was a student and therefore would not have attended those classes, the witnesses testified. The victim claimed he attended the classes as part of preparation for his first communion because he had missed several sessions.

Baker repeatedly denied the allegations and continued to deny his guilt during his sentencing hearing. 

Baker's attorney, Alison Kriger, said an appeal of the verdict is planned.