Daniel Baker's defense team says a "tragic, perfect storm" of events led an already mentally ill man to snap at the time he bludgeoned Marina Aksman to death in April 2010.
During opening statements Tuesday in the Deerfield man's murder trial, attorney Ed Genson said he'll show Baker didn't appreciate the criminality of what he was doing and argued he's guilty by reason of insanity. The strategy was expected due to the defense's numerous attempts to call Baker's mental fitness into question.
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Prosecutors, meanwhile, repeatedly described Baker's actions as "driven by rage and fueled with a purpose" -- from having the presence of mind to bring a baseball bat to confront Aksman at her Vernon Hills home to reminding his girlfriend, Kristina Aksman, to pack her seizure medication as they fled the crime scene.
Baker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder of Aksman, 50, who prosecutors say was beaten to death in her home for trying to end her daughter's relationship with him.
The defense doesn't appear to disagree with much of assistant state's attorney Patricia Fix's account of what happened in the early hours of April 1. After Kristina Aksman again missed her curfew while out with Baker, Marina Aksman was fed up with what she saw as a controlling relationship. She left him a voice mail at 2:42 a.m. saying the two of them couldn't be together. Baker, in turn, left her a threatening message at 4:21 a.m., just minutes before the murder.
"Now it's over," Baker said, according to Fix. "You don't mess with Daniel Baker."
Prosecutors said Baker then crashed his silver Dodge Neon into the front of Aksman's home in the posh Gregg's Landing subdivision and struck Aksman multiple times with a black aluminum bat.
Video footage of the crime scene showed the impact was such that blood splattered on the wall and ceiling and eliminated most of Aksman's face. Teeth were found wedged in her brain and in the bedroom closet, a crime scene technician testified.
Genson countered that Baker wasn't in his right mind. A few days before Aksman's murder, Baker met with his biological father after a 20-year separation, an experience Genson called "traumatic." He learned his mother had just gotten remarried. And, Genson said, Baker had started to hear voices.
"He blows up. He can't take it. He's paranoid," Genson said.
Genson said Baker went to the Aksman home to confront his girlfriend's father, thinking he was a member of the Russian mafia who physically and mentally abused Kristina Aksman. He had a momentary change of heart when he arrived and instead decided to kill himself, Genson said, and rammed his car into the house with such force both air bags deployed. Robert Aksman, a truck driver, had left for work a few hours earlier.
After opening statements, prosecutors called Kristina Aksman's older sister, Natalie Rozenblit, to the stand. She described Kristina's developmental delays, saying she couldn't do basic math, count currency or grasp the concept of time. Kristina Aksman is not charged in connection with her mother's murder.
Rozenblit also described a period in February 2010 when her sister and Daniel Baker left town for three days. The impromptu trip caused Marina Aksman to become distraught and seek guardianship of her daughter, which a judge granted March 15, 2010.
Defense co-counsel Blaire Dalton pointed out Kristina Aksman's father wasn't told about her disappearance, suggesting they were fearful of his temper.
As the trial progresses, so have Baker's interruptions. At one point, Genson had to ask for a break to explain to his irritable client that he wasn't allowed to testify while the prosecution presents its case.
"So at this rate I'll be getting on the stand in four weeks," Baker said. "I don't like people talking for me."