The 63-year-old Seymour man who shot and killed his brother-in-law in March 2019 spent his last day in the Jackson County Jail on Thursday.
William E. Baker learned his fate during a sentencing hearing in Jackson Circuit Court following his recent decision to plead guilty to a Level 2 felony charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of 33-year-old Dustin Payne. A Level 2 felony is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison with an advisory sentence of 17½ years.
The plea deal had called for Baker to spend six years in prison, and Jackson Circuit Court Judge Richard W. Poyner said that was what he intended to do when he entered the courtroom for the hearing.
“I’m not going to send you to prison,” Poynter said. “Clearly, this started because of the victim’s actions. That doesn’t give you the right to do what you did.”
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Poynter said he does not believe Baker set out to kill on March 10, 2019, in the parking lot of JayC Food Store on the west side of Seymour.
“No matter how hard we try, we can’t put the pieces back together,” he said. “Every wrong decision made in our life are emotional decisions.”
Baker received credit for the 593 days in jail and 198 days of good time credit, which means he spent two years and 60 days in jail. Poynter also placed him on probation for three years.
“I don’t think you are a threat to the community,” Poynter said.
He also said he didn’t believe Baker was going to be a reoffender considering the fact Baker didn’t have any prior arrests or criminal convictions.
After the hearing, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth said he was satisfied with the conviction.
“I’m satisfied with the total sentence of 17½ (of corrections). … I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say I am somewhat disappointed of the executed (in-custody) sentence, but that’s why your honor Judge Poynter has the black robe,” he said. “That’s a call he has to make, and I respect him for having to make that call.”
Baker’s attorney, Brad Johnson, said it was a horribly tough position for the judge to be in.
“He was limited in what he could do anyway,” he said.
Johnson said the case was highly unusual in the way it all happened.
“I think it’s very rare the circumstance to where a person has absolutely no criminal record whatsoever in 63 years — 61 at the time,” he said. “So it’s one of those things at the time what happened, my client was scared to death. He didn’t go there setting out to have those problems.”
At the time of the incident, Payne had been picking up his children, ages 7 to 12, from his ex-wife in a visitation exchange. Baker and his wife, Patricia Ann “Trish” Baker, were on hand to witness the exchange between Payne and his ex-wife, Kayla Lamb. Trish Baker is Payne’s sister.
According to witnesses, Payne, his fiancée and the four children were leaving the parking lot when Payne asked his children whose car their mother had walked to after the exchange occurred.
Witnesses told police after Payne discovered his ex-wife was walking to a car occupied by his sister and Baker, he pulled back around, parked and took a photo.
Payne then got out of his Chevrolet Suburban and walked over to Baker’s parked car, police said.
Witnesses said Payne then tapped on Baker’s passenger-side window, where Baker was seated, and that Payne shoved Baker’s shoulder.
Police said video showed Payne walked back to his vehicle and that he was followed by his sister and his ex-wife. A verbal altercation then occurred between Payne’s sister and his fiancée, Jessica Fowler, after he instructed her to fight his sister.
There is no video of that fight, but audio from it was captured. Women can be heard arguing, and then 12 seconds later, one shot is fired, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Payne was hit in the upper-right quadrant by a single-shot .357 Magnum handgun that police recovered from Baker’s vehicle.
Baker told police Payne pushed him as the women began to argue, so he put his hand on his gun, which was at his waist, to discourage the situation from escalating. He said he pulled the gun out after Payne shoved him again, and then Payne shoved him a third time before Baker shot him.
Witnesses did not corroborate that claim in police interviews, but some of them said the two men were face to face shortly before the shooting. Some witnesses said Baker grabbed Payne’s shoulder and turned him around, according to court documents.
During her testimony, Fowler said she and Payne had planned to marry March 15, 2019, and that he had made her a better person.
“Dustin taught me how to love and how to love myself,” she said.
Fowler said he got up every day and went to work to make sure he provided a good life for his kids and her.
“He would do anything for his friends,” she said.
Leonard Bays said he had known Payne since he as a little boy.
“He is the best friend I had on this Earth, and he wasn’t even in his prime yet,” he said. “My heart has been broken. I have gone to the cemetery 365 times a day, sometimes went two times a day.”
Trish Baker said her husband of 23 years had helped her raise Payne, and the two had a good relationship.
“He was very much a father figure to Dustin growing up,” she said.
During the year before the incident, the Bakers had not seen much of Payne, Trish said.
She said her husband is the finest man she has ever known.
“He is good, decent and kind,” she said.
She also testified and verified that her brother had two felony convictions stemming from domestic violence incidents.
William Baker said he loved Payne with all of his heart, but something changed during the last year.
“We didn’t know what was wrong with Dustin that last year,” he said.
William Baker said Payne had confronted him during an incident a week before he was shot.
“I’ve never seen him look so angry,” he said.
Baker also said he would trade places with Payne in a heartbeat.