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Greenbank wife killer sentenced to 52 years in prison

Kathie Baker
Kathie Baker's family members hug after Robert 'Al' Baker is sentenced to 52 years in prison for murdering her.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Judge Alan Hancock ensured that 63-year-old Robert "Al" Baker will die in prison for the brutal murder of his wife at their Greenbank home last June.

Tuesday morning, the Island County Superior Court judge sentenced the Antarctic scientist and pizzeria owner to 52 years in prison, which was the sentence recommendation from Senior Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme.

Baker was stone-faced throughout the dramatic hearing in which he was called a "monster" over and over again.

Baker took the stand in his own defense last week and claimed he didn't know how his wife, Kathie, was bludgeoned and strangled in their bed, dragged through the house, wrapped in tarps and thrown in their backyard.

The jury didn't buy it and found him guilty Monday afternoon of murder in the first degree with aggravating factors. In an unusual move, Hancock set the sentencing the next day.

Although Baker's background wasn't discussed during trial, Ohme described his life of deception.

Baker was convicted of molesting a stepdaughter — which Kathie didn't know about — and spent five years in prison in California in the early 1990s. Ohme suggested Baker's claim to be a physicist was fabricated; he said neither he nor a detective could find evidence that Baker has a degree.

Ohme said Kathie didn't know the real Al Baker.

"When Kathie went to sleep that last and final time, she had no idea she was living with a monster," he said.

The focus of the sentencing hearing was on Kathie, who was just 53 years old. Hancock said he agreed with Jami Hill, Kathie's niece, that she should no longer be called Kathie Baker, but referred to her by her maiden name and just "Kathie."

In comments and letters read in court, friends and family members described Kathie as beautiful, kind, loving woman who was a respected scientist. A colleague wrote that she was the first meteorologist to work for Raytheon Corporation; she and Baker worked at the science station in Antarctica.

Friends and family traveled from across the country to watch the trial and speak at the sentencing hearing.

"Kathie was the shining light of our family," Kathie's brother David Hill said. He described his sister as being "deeply in love" with her husband and that the family had accepted him into the family with open arms.

"In my opinion, he's a monster," he said. "He does not deserve any leniency."

Her other brother, Richard Hill, sent a letter to be read aloud.

"You took away the most beautiful person anyone could ever know," he wrote.

Amy Grafinger described the loss of her best friend.

"There's no way for me to sit here and tell you everything that Kathie meant to me," she said. "She was an incredible person who thought about other people, who was generous and kind."

Grafinger said she considered Kathie and Al Baker as part of her family and had planned to move to Whidbey to be closer to them.

Sheri Lawrence said they were friends for 26 years.

"Words cannot express what a wonderful lady she was and how much she meant to so many people," she said.

Kathie's stepsister, Char Johnson, also said she was well loved.

"She was just the light of everybody's eyes," she said. "She was just a wonderful, wonderful person. She never said anything bad about anybody."

Jami Hill, Kathie's niece, said the family had suffered terrible tragedies recently, which Kathie had helped her "put the pieces together."

"Her love lit the world," she said, adding that "watching her joy was tremendous."

Struggling through tears, he also had words for Baker. She said he was considered part of the family and had attended funerals of her father and other family members.

"Knowing what the family has suffered, he selfishly still decides to take another life," she said.

Baker said nothing in his defense and showed no emotion. His attorney, Tom Pacher of Coupeville, was ill and didn't attend the hearing. Kathie's family hugged each other after a guard led Baker away.

In closing arguments Monday, Pacher tried to punch holes in the prosecution's case and suggested that burglars may have killed Kathie Baker after her husband went to work.

"This case is crawling with reasonable doubt," he said. "There is simply not enough evidence in this case to convict him of anything."

Ohme, however, said that the overwhelming evidence showed that Baker killed his wife because his girlfriend was coming to Whidbey for a visit.

Baker told the woman that he was separated from his wife and bought plane tickets when he mistakenly thought Kathie would be in Denver for a week.

"The web of deception he had woven came crashing down on him," Ohme said.

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