Parents weep as son gets 9-year sentence

Friday, August 19, 2011

A young Lewisburg man's parents wept in the courtroom as he was sentenced to nine years in prison Wednesday.

A jury found Zachary Q. Baker, 22, of Fairlane Drive guilty of selling Ecstasy and marijuana at the Recreation Center.

Baker had been free on bond, but it was revoked at the end of the trial. Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler had no choice. The law requires revocation of bond after a conviction for the sale of a Schedule I drug in a drug-free zone.

Crigler similarly had no choice in the matter of Baker's sentencing. After reviewing his law book, the judge said, "I don't believe the Court can give probation or Community Corrections," because it was a Schedule I drug and because it was sold in a public park.

The minimum sentence was eight years, but Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard provided enhancing factors: Baker has a criminal record both as a juvenile and as an adult, and also admitted to underage drinking and recreational drug use, considered criminal conduct in the context of a sentencing hearing.

Jim Grimes of the Board of Probation and Parole, who prepared the pre-sentence report, testified he found Baker "quite a talented young man; able to express himself well."

Baker refused to tell him where he obtained the drugs he was selling, implying "it was a matter of his personal safety" that he not reveal his sources, Grimes said.

Defense attorney John S. Colley III called Baker's father to the witness stand and his testimony described "a pretty average kid," who "never applied himself as well as he could have."

"Did you," Colley asked, "recognize there might be a problem?"

"I recognized," the father responded, wiping his eyes, "he wasn't working and wasn't communicating with us. I suspected he was smoking pot."

Both of Baker's parents have full-time jobs and Baker had time alone at home to do as he pleased.

"I don't know what to say," Colley said, adding that he hoped for the minimum sentence on the Ecstasy charge, and concurrent sentences on the marijuana sales charges.

Baker pled guilty in two other cases of sale of marijuana to a confidential informant, in addition to the one he was tried on.

Crigler imposed the nine-year sentence, adding, "It could have been a harsher sentence than that."

Also weeping in the courtroom Wednesday was Joshua Oehler, 37, of 7th Avenue South, who must report to jail Friday to start serving nine months of a two-year sentence. Oehler was indicted on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect, a Class A Felony, but a plea to the lesser charge of child abuse, a Class E Felony, was negotiated by his attorney David McKenzie.

According to warrants sworn out by Lewisburg Police Department Detective James Johnson, on Sept. 14, Joshua Oehler broke four of his five-year-old daughter's fingers, two on each hand, and his wife, Deidre Oehler, 24, failed to seek medical treatment for the child.

The victim had "other injuries that include burns to the face and lips, multiple bruises including bruising around the throat," stated Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard in a motion requesting that Joshua Oehler be held without bond until his appearance in General Sessions Court.

Deidre Oehler was charged with child abuse and neglect and pled guilty to the lesser charge of child neglect, a Class A Misdemeanor. She was sentenced to 11 months 29 days on probation.

"Her failure to protect the child was the basis of the charge against her," stated District Attorney Chuck Crawford. "She let the child stay with him even though she knew he had the propensity to be overly physical with the child."

Deidre Oehler was represented by Kelly Wilson.