Violent offender registration, 5 years of probation for strangler

Judge deems sentence recommendation in plea deal insufficient
Thursday, May 28, 2020
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A man who claimed to have no memory of strangling his girlfriend with enough force to leave fingerprints on her neck will spend five years on probation and be required to register as a violent offender.

Robert Baber, 47, was given credit for 372 days he had spent in jail since the time of his arrest and released shortly after his recent sentencing hearing. He must also pay $1,170 in fines and fees and adhere to 30 courtimposed conditions for the duration of his probation.

Baber had previously pleaded no contest to felony charges of strangulation of a partner/family member and tampering with a witness/evidence. Under the terms of a joint plea agreement, a third felony charge of stalking was dismissed.

It was a harsher sentence than what had been recommended in the plea agreement by Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde and defense attorney Gregory Paskell — which was a 5-year deferred sentence, with the same amount of fines and fees and courtimposed conditions.

Under a deferred sentence, the felony convictions of strangulation of a partner/ family member and tampering with a witness could have been cleared from Baber’s record if he had met all the court requirements by the end of the designated 5-year period.

After the attorney’s presented the recommendation, Rohde began to tell District Judge Matt Wald that is was a “complicated case,” but she was stopped.

“Ms. Rohde, you made the deal. And I don’t want to hear about it if it goes beyond today,” said Wald.

Baber said that the night before the crime, he had been at a hospital for a medical issue.

“I closed my eyes in the hospital and I opened them in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility,” said Baber.

While Wald acknowledged that there may have been mitigating factors on the night of the strangulation, no such factors were present in the days following Baber’s arrest when he committed a second felony offense from jail.

Wald said that second felony of tampering with a witness “makes me wonder if Mr. Baber will follow the rules of probation at all.”

Wald said he had two main concerns regarding Baber:

1. A firearm was discharged during the first felony.

2. The tampering crime was committed after Baber was jailed for the strangulation.

Wald also noted that despite some vacillation on the victim’s part at one point, she clearly was still fearful of Baber. And finally, Wald noted that Baber had some kind of history involving a firearm.

“A probationary sentence is appropriate. But a deferred is not,” said Wald.

The judge said the sentence takes into consideration Baber’s “minimal but concerning history,” the fact a second felony was committed after Baber had been jailed on the first charge, community protection and holding Baber accountable for his actions.

“HE WILL COME FOR ME AND ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD”

Appearing via video, the woman read a letter describing the events on the night of the attack. She recalled being awakened by Baber, who wanted dinner. She told of how she was strangled and how Baber fired a gun inside their home. She told of Baber saying “Yep – I’m going to kill you tonight” and how when she managed to call 911, Baber said “Good. Now I can take out as many of them (police) as I can.”

She felt weak. She felt violated. She felt humiliated. And she was fearful.

Her parents came from out-of-state to move her back home. But Baber continued to try and reach out to her from jail. So she moved again.

And she continues to live in fear. “He will come for me and one of us will be dead,” she said.

The couple was together for about two years. And when asked by Wald if at one point, she had downplayed the incident, she said yes.

THE CASE

On April 24, 2019, at 3 a.m., law enforcement responded to a domestic disturbance at a home just outside of Columbus, after Baber allegedly choked his girlfriend. He was also armed with two handguns and was threatening to kill people, according to court documents.

Deputies found Baber sitting inside his pickup truck outside his home and took him into custody. When questioned about what had happened, Baber said he and his girlfriend had been arguing all day, but there had been “no physical fighting,” according to court documents. After being Mirandized (read his rights), Baber said he did not want to talk any longer.

Visible fingerprint bruises were found on both sides of the victim’s neck, which she told Stillwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Clay Waltner had come from being choked by Baber several times “so hard that she could not breath or make a sound,” according to court documents. The victim said she was afraid Baber was going to kill her.

The victim was able to fight her way free, at which point Baber “repeated that he was going to kill her several times,” according to court documents. At some point, Baber allegedly fired a round from a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun into a wall from a doorway, while he and the victim were in close proximity.

Law enforcement found that gun, as well as a loaded ATI .45 in the center console of Baber’s truck, according to court documents.

The victim told Waltner that Baber was planning “to shoot law enforcement, and that he was going to kill himself,” according to court documents.

After being jailed, a judge told Baber he could have no contact with the victim. The victim also sought, and was granted, a Temporary Order of Protection.

Prosecutors alleged that Baber began making phone calls from jail in which he told a family member “he let his feelings and desires regarding the victim, and her activities and status be known, especially to his mother, knowing that she would report to the victim,” according to court documents.