Judge declares Baker fit to stand trial
Daniel Baker of Deerfield is mentally fit to stand trial for the April 2010 murder of a 50-year-old Vernon Hills woman, a Lake County judge ruled Friday.
Judge Daniel Shanes said Baker understands the charges against him and is able to assist defense attorneys in his trial, now scheduled to begin Monday in Waukegan.
After the ruling, Baker said he wanted to fire his attorney, Ed Genson, and represent himself. The request stems from Baker's agitation over Genson's attempt to have the 24-year-old declared mentally unfit.
Shanes told Baker that representing himself would be unwise.
"Mr. Baker, I just made a ruling saying you are fit to go to trial, but I could always reverse that ruling and send you to (a psychiatric hospital) if I think your condition has changed," he said. "If I think your condition has changed, I can always change my mind."
Baker is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Marina Aksman. Police say Baker killed Aksman in her home after she tried to end a relationship Baker was having with her daughter, Kristina, then 20.
It is the second time Baker was deemed fit to stand trial in the case. The first was in front of Lake County Judge Fred Foreman in September 2011. Foreman has since been named Lake County chief circuit court judge, prompting the case to be reassigned to Shanes.
The high-profile case had been working its way through the courts for two years. Nearly two weeks ago, Genson questioned whether Baker was mentally fit.
Last week, Genson said he would seek an insanity plea after psychiatrists said Baker suffers from personality disorders that limit his understanding of how relationships form. The afflictions often lead to severe anxiety, forces Baker into odd behavior, and gives him a tendency to turn inward in social situations, experts said.
Shanes mentioned last week he was considering putting Baker on the stand during Friday's fitness hearing. Instead, he decided testimony from a state psychiatrist, who said Baker was mentally fit, was reliable.
A defense psychiatrist also testified that Baker needs medication to control mood swings and make him more agreeable to working with his defense attorneys.
And in his ruling, Shanes acknowledged that letters penned by Baker were a bit worrisome in that they said police officers, doctors and prosecutor Patricia Fix would "see the error of their ways" and testify in his behalf during the trial.
"But, to show he is mentally fit to stand trial shows he is able to function within the context of a trial," Shanes said. "And, there is no question in my mind that he is able to do that."
It remains unclear when opening statements in the trial could begin. Murder trials are routinely held before a jury because it takes a unanimous vote to find someone guilty rather than one judge. For that reason, attorneys for both sides can spend several days selecting a jury of 12 men and women, and two alternates.
However, Genson has stated in court more than once that Baker is electing to have a bench trial — allowing the judge to decide the outcome — thus opening the door for proceedings to begin Monday.
Shanes told Baker to inform the court of his decision early Monday.
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