Former Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Counts of Sexual Misconduct

By Susan McRoberts
Whittier Daily News [Norwalk CA]
Downloaded May 21, 2003

NORWALK -- A former Catholic priest who served at churches in La Mirada and Pico Rivera pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 35 counts of sexual misconduct with a child.

Former priest Michael Stephen Baker, 55, is accused of molesting former Whittier resident Matthew Severson, 35, beginning in 1975 - when Severson was 8 - and ending shortly after Severson turned 19 in 1986.

Severson, who testified at Baker's preliminary hearing last month, said the alleged molestations took place when he spent nights at the church rectory with Baker.

Severson also testified Baker sent him a 1994 letter.

In it, Severson said Baker apologized for his "immature emotions and psychosexual screwed- up-ness (that) slashed and burned through those years of your life seeking self- satisfaction in the name of love.'

On Tuesday, after Baker pleaded not guilty to the charges, Norwalk Court Commissioner Michael Schuur set his next court date for July 15, when attorneys for both sides will meet for a pretrial hearing.

Baker was known as "Father Mike' when he served at St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada and St. Hilary in Pico Rivera from 1975 to 1986.

His attorney, Donald H. Steier, believes the 20- and 30-year-old crime allegations should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has run out.

In 1994, the state Legislature began allowing prosecutors to pursue child molestation charges against a suspect if the charges are filed within a year of the victim's first report to police.

However, there must be corroborating evidence other than the victim's word. The victim must have been a child at the time the abuse occurred.

The statute of limitations has now been extended, Steier said.

Baker's case cannot proceed until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision, expected by June, in a case called Stogner v. California, Steier said.

The nation's highest court will decide if Marion Stogner can be charged with molestations that allegedly happened almost 50 years ago.

"This case could have a tremendous impact on my client's prosecution,' Steier said. "All we can do is wait and see.'

Stogner is now 72. He raised two sons and two daughters in Antioch, California.

In 1998, he was charged with repeatedly molesting his daughters. The daughters, out of fear and naivete, did not report the alleged abuse until 1997, when police began investigating charges that Stogner's son was molesting children, investigators said. The son was later convicted.

Stogner denies abusing his children. His trial remains on hold until the Supreme Court decides.

His attorney, Roberto Najera, argued before the justices in March that removing the statute of limitations denies his client a valid defense, thus violating due process rights.

Najera also claimed the 1994 laws violated statutes which say that prosecutors cannot retroactively apply a law to acts committed before the law existed.

Baker, free on bail pending trial, originally was charged with 29 counts, but five more were added after the alleged victim's recent testimony.

Wire reports contributed to this story.

Susan McRoberts can be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029, or by e-mail at


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