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Inmate accused of plotting the killing of rape victim, 16

The man is charged with raping the girl. Police say he offered inmates $10,000 to kill her.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Her son charged with raping a 16-year-old girl on the Pinellas Trail, Mary Honaker wrote the judge and asked for mercy. She wanted her son to go to boot camp, not prison.

"I hope you can see this 19-year-old is not a 19-year-old, but a boy," Honaker wrote of her son, Joseph Baker, in March.

A month later, Baker was playing cards in jail with two inmates. He offered the inmates $10,000 to kill the girl police say Baker raped, said St. Petersburg Detective Richard Roseberry.

"He felt that the victim was the only witness against him and that if something happened to her, the case would go away," Roseberry said.

On Monday, Baker was charged with solicitation to commit murder. He already is facing capital sexual battery, a life felony.

The alleged murder scheme unraveled when one of the Pinellas County Jail inmates told a friend, who contacted police. Investigators outfitted the inmates with an audio wire and recorded a conversation with Baker in which the plot was discussed, police said.

Baker offered $5,000 up front and $5,000 when the job was done, police said. He also gave the inmates a map of where the rape victim lived.

"I think he was serious," Roseberry said.

Investigators say Baker, a former cook from Gulfport, wanted his rape case to disappear.

He is charged with raping the 16-year-old girl on the evening of Dec. 22 in a secluded area next to the Pinellas Trail, just east of 62nd Street S and not far from his home.

The girl was looking for her black poodle about 5:45 p.m. She walked up to Baker and asked if he'd seen her dog, police said. He said he had and would show her where.

She followed him to an isolated spot, where he pulled a knife, threatened to kill her and raped her several times, police said.

On his right arm was a tattoo of his infant son and the baby's name: Austin. The girl was able to describe the tattoo to police. Tips from the public led detectives to Baker after police put out a sketch and description of the rapist.

Honaker, Baker's mother, said Tuesday that she did not know her son had been charged with solicitation to commit murder.

"I don't believe that he did that," said Honaker, who visits her son weekly. "He doesn't know anybody who's got that kind of money. He don't have 50 cents unless I give it to him."

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