Man to be freed after conviction overturned

Suspect sent to prison for alleged role in multi-county pot ring that involved a high school student.
MCT Regional News
Jun 11, 2013

The 12th District Court of Appeals has thrown out a Butler County man’s convictions for his role in a multi-county pot ring that involved a Mason High School student.

Justin Baker, 32, of Fairfield Twp. will soon be out of prison and can not be tried again following the decision handed down Monday vacating the convictions because none of his dealings actually occurred in Warren County.

Jack Garretson, Baker’s attorney at trial, said the decision is “extremely rare.”

He added the focus of his argument at trial was venue had not been proven.

Eight people were indicted in the ring that was exposed when then 18-year-old Tyler Pagenstecher was caught selling marijuana to his Mason High School classmates.

Pagenstecher’s activities were the only actions that actually occurred in Warren County, and Baker’s attorneys — who did not call a single witness during a bench trial last year — argued he couldn’t be culpable because all of his activities transpired in Butler and Hamilton counties.

Judge Robert Peeler found Baker guilty on numerous counts of drug cultivation, trafficking and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity in December. Peeler sentenced Baker to eight years in prison.

The appellate court found while it was clear that Baker engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity in Butler and Hamilton counties, no element of his offenses occurred in Warren County, therefore the state failed to prove venue.

Appellate Judge Robin Piper wrote in the decision, “While our decision today resulted in a distasteful outcome, the state made the choice to bring these charges in Warren County despite having at least two clearly established venues and instead chose a venue with no significant nexus to Baker’s crimes … while the record demonstrates that Baker blatantly broke the law by growing, possessing and trafficking marijuana, his crimes did not have significant nexus with Warren County, thus venue was not proper here.”

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he is reviewing the ruling and the case transcripts and may appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Ginger Bock, Baker’s attorney for the appeal, said, “His constitutional and statutory rights were violated when he was tried in Warren County where he did not commit a crime.”

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By Lauren Pack - Hamilton JournalNews, Ohio (MCT)

©2013 the Hamilton JournalNews (Hamilton, Ohio)

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