west chester >> In tears, Barry Robert Baker Jr. asked the Common Pleas Court judge who was to sentence him for throwing a “sucker punch” at a disabled man outside a West Chester convenience store for leniency.
It was not forthcoming.Baker was sentenced Wednesday to state prison for the assault and his subsequent flight from authorities who were searching for after warrants were issued for his arrest. The judge indicated that he found Baker not only to be a threat to the community, but to be a liar who showed contempt for the court through his dishonesty.
“I want this behind me,” Baker told Judge William P. Mahon at a 2 1/2-hour sentencing proceeding at which an extended version of the now-infamous videotape of Baker’s roundhouse blow was aired. The video shows Baker landing a haymaker to the face of an unsuspecting man who suffers from cerebral palsy and whose gait Baker mocked before assaulting him. “I want my life back. This will affect me for the rest of my life. I just want a chance to rebuild it.”
But Mahon, citing not only the nature of Baker’s crime but also the disrespect he had shown for the court by fleeing from apprehension following the outcry over the sucker punch and a propensity for being untruthful about the matter, gave him credit only for not making the prosecution prove the charges against him at trial, an exercise that would certainly have ended in a guilty verdict.
“I’ve been on the bench for 18 years, and I’ve never had someone misrepresent to me, and be caught doing it, as you,” Mahon told Baker, who had pleaded guilty in September to charges of simple assault and flight to avoid apprehension. “You have extreme difficulty with the truth.”
He cited instances when Baker had said he did not know he was being sought by police, whether he had been in legal trouble in the past decade, and even whether the punch he threw was in response to an earlier altercation with someone he mistook the victim for.
“You are a bully,” Mahon continued. “You are a predator. You are a coward. In 18 years on the bench I have never had such tangible evidence of someone’s moral compass being so askew.”
Mahon sentenced Baker, 29, a Coatesville area resident who was living in Georgetown, Del., to twin terms of one to two years in a state prison on the charge, the statutory maximum for each, as had been requested by the prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Morgan. In addition, he sentenced Baker to another term of one to two years for violating his probation from a 2009 case of theft from a motor vehicle, for a total sentence of three to six years behind bars.
The sentence far outweighed the sentence recommended in state guidelines for defendants in Baker’s shoes, of between three and 14 months incarceration for the assault and probation to six months for the flight. Thomas Purl, Baker’s defense attorney, had asked Mahon to consider handing down a sentence that would keep his client in Chester County Prison, where he had been held since his arrest in June after a regional manhunt involving local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
The victim, 22-year-old Michael Patrick Ryan, who had not spoken publicly about the matter since it occurred and went viral in May, was seated in the courtroom with his mother, but did not address Mahon during the proceeding. He declined comment when approached by a reporter and left the courtroom with Morgan and West Chester Officer Matthew Simcox, who had arrested Baker about six months ago.
In the assault case, Baker and others were outside a 7-Eleven convenience store located in the 200 block of South High Street around 2:30 a.m. on May 10 when a 22-year-old man later identified as Ryan, who has had cerebral palsy most of his life, drove into the parking lot and parked his vehicle in the lot near the front of the store.
Ryan got out of his vehicle and entered the store.
As seen on a video taken from the store’s surveillance system that was released by the prosecution after the incident, Baker started making fun of Ryan after he went inside, mocking him with an exaggerated stork-like walk. When Ryan came back out of the store, Baker again mocked him, this time so Ryan could see it. As Ryan turned to face Baker, in front of his vehicle, Baker spread his legs in a fighter’s stance and without warning, punched Ryan directly in the face.
Baker then walked away from the scene without looking back, as Ryan stood stunned and held his nose, which was bleeding. The episode went viral on the internet and captured national headlines.
“I think the defendant has proven himself to be a menace to society,” said Morgan in asking Mahon for the maximum term of imprisonment allowed by law. “He needs state incarceration.”
She said Baker had intentionally targeted and chosen his victim, who he did not know and who did not in any way confront or goad him into the assault, as Baker had suggested at various times. “He sucker-punched Mr. Ryan. It was completely unprovoked. The video shows everything you need to know about the type of man Mr. Baker is.”
Purl, in defending his client, noted that Baker had been raised in a dysfunctional home, where his mother died of a drug overdose and his father continued a life of substance abuse. He said that Baker was drunk the night of the incident, and had mistaken Ryan for someone he had an altercation with earlier.
“My client is very remorseful,” Purl said. “He doesn’t go around hitting people. He’s had a very traumatized time.”
The flight case involves Baker’s actions after his initial arrest on the assault charges on May 22. Bench warrants were issued for him for a violation of probation and for failing to appear for a domestic relations hearing on back child support he owed. Morgan told Mahon that Baker was advised by his then-attorney to turn himself in, but he did not.
Instead, he fled from his home in Delaware and went on the run. Cellphone records showed him talking about driving back roads at night, sleeping in the woods, investigating fleeing to Canada or Mexico, and texting his girlfriend and others about “laying low” in Tennessee.
Baker was aware at the time that there was a regional manhunt for him in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland involving U.S. Marshals, Chester County Sheriffs, and state and local police, the prosecutor said.
Baker was apprehended in the early morning of June 5, hiding in the bathroom of a room at the Clarion Hotel on Pottstown Pike in Exton, in a room that had been booked under a false name.
Baker has 30 days to appeal the sentence.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.