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Pedophile ex-priest faces court date

August 24, 2011 |  6:17 pm

Photo: Michael Steve Baker, right, in court in 2007 with his attorney. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times Michael Stephen Baker, a former Roman Catholic priest convicted of molesting two boys, will be arraigned Friday as part of a motion filed by L.A. County prosecutors to have Baker committed to a state hospital indefinitely after completing his prison sentence.

Baker, who has served more than five years of a 10-year prison sentence for his 2007 conviction, was scheduled to be released Aug. 18. The petition, filed the same day with L.A. County Mental Health Court, means he will continue to be held while a judge reviews the case, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Tracy Watson.

Prosecutors will argue that Baker can be committed under a law that seeks to more stringently keep tabs on sexual offenders and reduce the risk of recidivism, Watson said.

Passed overwhelmingly by voter initiative in 2006, the law mandated evaluations for thousands more sex offenders than in the past to determine whether their conditions warrant hospitalization after criminal sentences have been served.

Lawyers for Baker filed a motion Wednesday to have the petition dismissed. If they are successful, Baker would be released on parole.

If the petition is not dismissed, the former priest will face a jury trial that will determine whether he should be committed for treatment.

Authorities have said that Baker ranks among the Los Angeles Archdiocese's most prolific child molesters.

He allegedly abused more than 20 youngsters in his 26 years as a priest and had confessed his problem to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in 1986. Instead of alerting police, Mahony, who was then a bishop, sent Baker to a treatment center in New Mexico and later reassigned him to a series of other parishes,  where he allegedly victimized other children.

Baker was first charged with more than a dozen crimes against young men in 2002 but the charges were voided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that California lacked the power to retroactively extend deadlines to prosecute older crimes, known as statutes of limitations.

The decision wiped out hundreds of potential criminal prosecutions, and left largely to civil lawyers the task of determining the nature and extent of other sexual abuse allegations.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Michael Stephen Baker, right, appears in court in 2007 with his attorney. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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