Former Priest Facing 34 Felony Counts in Sex-Abuse Case

By Sandra Marquez
Associated Press, carried in Whittier Daily News [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded May 1, 2003

Five additional felony sex-abuse charges were filed Wednesday against a former priest who could become one of the first ex-clerics in California to be tried for sexual abuse.

Michael Stephen Baker, 55, now faces a total of 34 felony charges after five counts of oral copulation with a minor were filed by prosecutors.

After a preliminary hearing two weeks ago, Baker was ordered to stand trial for allegedly molesting an altar boy throughout much of the 1970s and '80s.

Baker, who is free on bond, appeared in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Norwalk earlier Wednesday but his arraignment was postponed until May 20 after his lawyer, Donald Steier, asked for more time to review the transcripts of the preliminary hearing.

Baker was previously ordered to stand trial on 13 counts of lewd acts upon a child under 14 and 16 counts of oral copulation with a minor. Authorities said he also remains under investigation in the alleged molestations of at least nine youths dating to 1976.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the latest charges will be tacked on to the existing criminal complaint.

The new counts stem from testimony during the preliminary hearing by alleged victim Matthew Severson, who said Baker had sent him intimate notes apologizing and professing his love.

Severson estimated that Baker had molested him at least 168 times before he turned 18, although he said he did not have specific memories of most of the incidents.

Steier said it was unlikely that a jury would be swayed by the five new charges.

"When Mr. Severson was testifying he estimated a lot of different things. They don't carry a lot of weight,' Steier said. "He was unable to provide specifics.'

The alleged abuse occurred while Severson was an altar boy in the rectory of churches in La Mirada and Pico Rivera and allegedly in a Palm Desert condominium when he was 7 or 8 years old.

Baker has declined comment, saying his attorney had advised him to keep quiet.


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