Borderline: The People vs Eunice Baker

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About Film

Awarded Best Documentary on the Theme on a Disability by the Picture This.. International Film Festival in Calgary, Canada BORDERLINE is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Eunice Baker, a borderline mentally retarded woman who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murdering a young child, despite evidence that the death was accidental. After nearly 5 years in prison, The New York State Appellate Court recently reduced Eunice's sentence to criminally negligent homicide, and she was released on time served. When she was first brought in for questioning, Eunice, who did not understand her Miranda rights, signed a false confession. The document states that while babysitting young Charlotte Kurtz, Eunice intentionally killed the child by locking her in her bedroom and turning the thermostat up to 90 degrees on a hot June day. The defense in her trial claims that a short in the thermostat's circuitry caused the sweltering heat inside the home, a fact that is confirmed by the sworn testimony of an electrical expert. Eunice's lawyer also asserts that his client, due to her limited cognitive capacity (her IQ is between 65 and 78), did not realize that the heat posed a severe threat to the three-year-old child. READ MORE

From day one, Eunice was tried in the media and found guilty. Not until the midst of the trial were any articles printed sympathetic to her, though evidence supporting her innocence had surfaced. With no audio or video recording of Eunice's confession, jurors were forced to decide whether or not she possesses the intelligence to have understood her Miranda rights or realized that Charlotte was in danger. By following this controversy as it unfolds in the rural upstate New York courtroom of Judge Vincent Sgueglia, BORDERLINE draws attention to the problem of how mentally handicapped individuals are treated by the legal system across the nation, especially in rural communities and small towns. With more than 4% of the national prison population considered mentally retarded, this issue, which has been overlooked for decades, is only now gaining the national recognition it deserves. According to Scott Miller, Eunice Baker's lawyer, mentally retarded people have little protection as they often waive their Miranda rights without understanding what they are doing. Since people with mental retardation tend to provide more incriminating evidence to prosecutors than other defendants, they are also generally less successful at plea-bargaining. When they go to trial, their testimony may be viewed as less credible because aggressive prosecutors can make them appear unreliable. Using Eunice Baker's case as an example, BORDERLINE raises the question of whether the legal system, which presupposes a mentally competent defendant is prepared and able to protect the rights of mentally disabled people. The lives of both Charlotte Kurtz and Eunice Baker were tragic. Charlotte's mother, Nikki Sherman, was 16 when she became pregnant. After being taken away by social services, Charlotte changed foster parents seven times. Eunice was the victim of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. By delving deep into their troubled backgrounds, this film seeks to explain the non-legal issues and complexities leading up to the fateful night, attempting to help viewers understand how such a tragedy could come to pass. BORDERLINE unfolds chronologically, emerging as a poignant story of one family's struggle for justice in the context of a small, economically depressed rural town. As Eunice's case progresses, the audience is forced to grapple with challenging questions about how often individuals with limited cognitive capacity sign false confessions and whether these confessions, which are neither video nor audio taped, are enough to warrant prosecution. The film focuses on the Baker family in order to paint a more complete picture of Eunice's handicap, but viewers are reminded by interviews with the victim's mother and foster parents of the pain caused by the child's death. Following Eunice's story from her initial trial to her ultimate release, and focusing on her family's struggle to defend her despite poverty and their own mental disabilities, BORDERLINE draws attention to the way mentally handicapped individuals are treated by the legal system, especially in rural communities and small towns. Ultimately, the film proves that the legal system, while seriously flawed, has the potential to right itself and correct injustice.


Produced & Directed by: Slawomir Grunberg Edited by: Erika Street, Marylin Rivchin, William Doll & Monika Reder Sound: Brian Truglio, Erika Street & William Doll Director of Photography: Slawomir Grunberg Additional Photography: Jason Longo & Brian Truglio Associate Producers: Erika Street & Brian Truglio Musical Score: Doug Frankerberger Production Assistants: Dana Ewald & Mike Colasurdo Funding for this film was provided by: The Open Society Institute a Soros Foundations Network New York State Council for the Arts New York Foundation for the Arts

Screenings and Awards


• FOCUS 2007, Film Festival, Redding, California • Award for the Best Documentary on a Theme on Disability, 2006 International Picture This.. International Film Festival, Calgary, Canada, 2006 • Breaking Down Barriers,Moscow Disability Film Festival, Perspektiva, 2006 • Normal Festival, Prague, Czech Republic, 2006 • The Open University Series on Disability, Budapest, Hungary, 2006 • Fall Creek Cinema, Ithaca, New York, 2006 • Perspectives International Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2006 • Reel Life Disability Film Festival, Dearborn, Michigan, 2006 • Chicago International Documentary Festival, 2005 • Warsaw International Film Festival, Warsaw, Poland, 2005 • Sprout Film Festival, NYC • Athens International Film Festival • Bay Street Film Festival, Thunder Bay, Canada • Human Rights in Film Festival (Prawa Czlowieka w Filmie), Warsaw • New Screen Television Series

Grants and Funding

• a Grant from the Pope Foundation • New York State Council for the Arts • New York Foundation for the Arts • The Open Society Institute • a Soros Media Justice Fellowship

Broadcast History

• LinkTV • Free Speech TV • PBS • Denmark TV 2 • Planete Poland • New Screen Television Series

Reviews and Reactions

Is there justice for mentally disabled?

By Chuck Haupt Press & Sun-Bulletin Friday February 3, 2006 Film profiles plight of Eunice Baker in heat-related death of 3-year-old. Eunice Baker, left, along with her mother, Debra Brown, say they are pleased with the documentary Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker. It tells the story of Baker, a mentally disabled woman who was convicted of murder in 2000.

By Debbie Swartz

Press & Sun-Bulletin Binghamton, NY SPENCER — Debra Brown never wanted her daughter, Eunice Baker, to be labeled "mentally handicapped" or "mentally retarded." But Baker's mental disability played a significant role in her 2000 conviction for second-degree murder and later in her successful appeal and release from prison in 2004. That period in the life of Baker and her family is chronicled in Slawomir Grunberg's award-winning documentary, Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker, which will premiere Feb. 17 at the Fall Creek Cinema in Ithaca. READ MORE

Gumberg's 77-minute film — which won an award as best documentary on a disability theme at the 2005 International Film Festival in Calgary — follows Baker's case and her family's fight for her, from the original 1999 trial to her release from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 2004. Grunberg said the purpose of his film is to cast a critical eye on how the criminal justice system unfairly deals with individuals with mental disabilities, especially in poor, rural areas such as Tioga County. Grunberg met Baker shortly after her arrest in 1999 in connection with the death of 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz. The child, who Baker was babysitting, died from hyperthermia — an abnormally high body temperature — after being locked in her bedroom. A short in the thermostat caused the furnace to continually heat and the temperature in the Owego apartment to soar to over 110 degrees. But to many in the community, Baker was seen as a baby-killer. She was accused of turning up the heat as high as it would go and locking the bedroom door until the child died. Her own words were held against her; in a second statement she gave to police, she said she intentionally killed the girl. In the film, Baker's attorney, Scott Miller, said Eunice did not know her own limitations and would have confessed to killing John F. Kennedy if it meant she could go home. Brown said she could understand why law enforcement and court officials might have thought her daughter was lying or hiding the truth, and likened Eunice's mental abilities to that of a basic computer. "You can put the information in and she will spit it out," she said. Baker's gripping 15-day trial received extensive newspaper and TV coverage. Grunberg said he had seen some of the news stories, but after speaking to Baker in person prior to the trial, he said he knew she was disabled. "I'm talking to someone whose brain works different than mine," he said, calling the idea of her pre-meditating a crime "nonsense." The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department disagreed with the Tioga County jury's decision to convict Baker of second-degree murder. The appellate court reduced the charge to criminally negligent homicide, which has a maximum term of 1 1/3 to four years. Since Baker had already spent four years in prison, she was released. According to the appellate court's decision, Baker's mental disabilities — which include her IQ of 73 — brought into doubt her ability to understand the risk the over-heated apartment presented. In the film, Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene, who prosecuted the case, said Baker's mental disability was relevant, but did not excuse her conduct. Brown said Wednesday she doesn't blame the investigator who questioned her daughter for 4 1/2 hours. "For him to do his job the right way, he would persistently interrogate the individual," she said. The problem arose when "he failed to see that he was dealing with a person with disabilities," Brown said. Baker doesn't comprehend what she is saying, nor will she show a lot of emotion unless overwhelmed, Brown said. In the film, Beverly Davenport, Baker's former special education teacher, said while the now 29-year-old might dress and talk like everyone else, she is not. Davenport said Baker perceives people in authority as infallible. Also in the film are Baker's former principal and a corrections officer who regularly interacted with Eunice. Brown said that advocating for people with disabilities is of paramount importance to her and her family, and she hopes Borderline will aid in the fight. She said one step in the right direction would be to have all confessions recorded on video or audio tape. Grunberg said 4 percent of the nation's nearly 2 million prison inmates are mentally disabled and said he has spoken with families who are in the same situation Baker and her family faced. "I was so happy that there was such a positive ending to this story," Grunberg said. "If there hadn't been a camera following this poor girl for five years, who knows what would have happened."
From the viewers of the Picture This... Film Festival gets you going around the issues... ...excellent cohesion... ...did what a documentary film should do - tell a story about a slice of life... ...traces the history/trajectory of this tragedy... ...heart-rending... READ MORE
...good job of sketching Eunice's background - her family, the emotions... ...great drawn out final conclusion... ...demonstrates the powerlessness of the marginalized in dealing with the judicial system... no wonder so many disabled people are in jail...! ...excellent filming... ...was instantly pulled in by this woman's story...her mom worked so hard to free her daughter... ...such an interesting story, it's not just about disability, it's about poverty, education, the unity of family... ...inspiring to see a woman strong and holding her head up with dignity...kept me intrigued and interested... ...sequence of events and background contextual information is well laid out... ...use of spokespeople from varying perspectives works well to keep audience connected and interested... ...approach is very creative and effectively portrays the many contradictions and misperceptions in this case... ...commentary about Eunice's vulnerability, judgments made in the media and her mom's lifelong efforts to avoid labeling Eunice are very compelling... ...this is a winner...! ...powerful doc about a miscarriage of justice... ...peels back the layers regarding justice for the poor and the disabled...
From the televison and DVD viewers Dear Slawomir, I am the Librarian ... I recently obtained a copy of your film "Borderline: The people vs. Eunice Baker," and also took it home and watched it. I want to congratulate you on making an extremely powerful and haunting film with many important messages about such issues as the criminal justice system, family strength, & mental retardation, and even about more tangential issues such as obesity. It was obviously quite a labor of persistence for you to stick with this story and family over many years, not knowing what direction their lives were going to take. I found myself thinking a lot about the film over the next couple of days, wondering how the family members are doing, and especially impressed by their supportiveness of one another during extremely trying times which might have torn other families apart. There was the possibility for redemption at the end of the film, for sure, if the key players had not been too damaged over the years to reclaim their lives. thanks again for making such a potent documentary. I hope that it will be seen by a great many people. Best, Leigh READ MORE
This episode just aired on our local PBS station. I was truly moved by this. I have a nephew that is mentally retarded and a niece that is 'borderline' retarded. I also have a three year old granddaughter. So, needless to say, I saw this from all view points. There is something that really disturbs me about the whole thing...Why were the parents of the little three year old blameless? As parents, it was their responsibility to provide adequate care for their child, anythingless was negligence. Surely, they knew that Eunice had a diminished mental awareness and therefore should be held accountable as well. I feel the parents were more at fault than Eunice was. But, my opinion and the law aren't always the same. It was a very well told story and photographed well. I believe it deserves to be shown at a more viewable time. I think it came on at 4:00A.M. this morning, (I only seen it because I don't sleep much since my son was killed in Iraq). The general public needs to know about things like this. It's something most of us have never given any thought to and unless you're in a situation such as this, we wouldn't think about it. Thank you for telling this story and for doing it with dignity. Sincerely, Ann Dear Sir, Your excellent doc Borderline was aired on Maryland Public Television an hour ago. It was extremely moving. I'm interested in Rachel's interests towards college and law school. It would appear that some civil penalties would be due the family for enduring the flawed verdict. They certainly live in squalor, and if Rachel is as bright as she is motivated, she'll need financial help towards her scholastic goals. I'm a former pediatrician and now pediatric subspecialist, and am angry at how this tradgedy was perpetrated on Eunice. Though it aired on PBS, you should find interest in others with a wider spectrum of viewers as well. I'd even think HBO. Duane, MD Dear Mr. Grunberg, I just wanted to send an email to convey my appreciation for the subject you present in your film "Borderline". I've just finished watching it on Link TV and was a blubbering fool throughout much of it. I am still shaken up and tearful as I write this. I am the mother of an eighteen year old son who also has mental retardation and has had a few behavioral issues that especially frighten me as turns into an adult. I can put myself in the place of Eunice's mother easily and it terrifies me to think about my son being incarcerated for even a night. I cannot begin to imagine five years. It physically hurts me to think about it. Thank you so much for bringing this subject to film and to the public. Very sincerely, Shellie

Reviews and Reactions - in Polish

Borderline – People vs. Eunice Baker

rez. Slawomir Grunberg, USA 2004, 80’ Panorama Filmow o Prawach Czlowieka Award for the Best Documentary on a Theme on Disability – International Picture This... International Film Festival 2006, Calgary/Kanada Slawomir Grunberg pozostaje bacznym obserwatorem amerykanskiego zycia spolecznego, zwlaszcza w obszarach zwiazanych z respektowaniem praw jednostki. Film ten wpisuje sie w tradycje dokumentów obnazajacych slabosci procesu karnego w USA. Kobieta na granicy uposledzenia umyslowego pada ofiara ignorancji wymiaru sprawiedliwosci i skazana zostaje na dlugoletnie wiezienie za zabicie dziecka, którego byla opiekunka.

Trial Coverage

Investigator: Baker admitted killing girl. Witness says baby sitter changed story

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer A few hours after a 3-year-old Owego child died of hyperthermia last summer, the baby sitter accused of killing her cooperated with police and freely admitted to the crime, a state police investigator testified Wednesday. Investigator Michael Meyers said Eunice Baker's demeanor never changed during some 4½ hours of questioning. READ MORE

"She was answering the questions readily and was cooperative," said Myers, who interviewed Baker alone. "Were there tears?" asked Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene. "No," Myers said. Myers, who began his testimony late Tuesday afternoon, was the only witness who testified Wednesday in Baker's second-degree murder trial. She is accused of dressing the child in socks and corduroy pants, locking her in a bedroom, and turning up the heat until the child died of hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. Baker's attorney, Scott Miller of Ithaca, grilled Myers for more than four hours Wednesday, almost as long as it took Myers to question Baker. Some in the courtroom audience yawned, sighed and fidgeted as Miller questioned Myers about every small detail, including whether Myers asked "leading questions." Myers denied doing so. Myers said he reviewed Baker's Miranda rights against self-incrimination with her, and she said she understood. Keene asked if Myers threatened Baker, made contact with her in any way, or handcuffed her. He said no. Baker allegedly made three seperate statements to Myers that day. In the first statement, she denied touching the thermostat and said she found Charlotte in bed wearing some extra socks a pair of corduroy pants. Myers said he told her he had a hard time believing the child dressed herself. Baker later changed her story in the second statement and said she dressed the child in extra clothes and turned up the thermostat. "I thought if i could get her temperature up high enough that I could kill her," Baker allegedly told Myers. In the third statement, Baker told him she opened a window in the child's bedroom after she found the child dead in her bed, Myers said. SHe also complained about the low pay and long hours of her baby-sitting job. "Eunice Baker brought those issues up. I had no intention of speaking about those issues," Myers said of the pay and hours. After the lengthy interrogation, Baker asked for and received a lunch from McDonald's consisting of a Big Mac and french fries. Myers then told her she was under arrest. I aksed her if she was done eating, She said that she hadn't finished her french fries and she would like to take those home with her and finish eating them there," Myers said. "I assumed she didn't know the legal process." During the cross-examination of Myers, Miller pointed out there was no videotape or audiotape of the interview with Baker and said no other officer witnessed the interview. Miller is trying to prove that his client, whose IQ measures in the 70s and is borderline retarded, did not have the mental capacity to understand and voluntarily waive her Miranda rights against self-incrimination. He pointed out that Baker failed to notice two mistakes Myers made in typing her statement when she reviewed the statements. For example, one statement referring to the child's legal guardian, Donna Hammond, mistakenly says Dawn. "Did you suspect she was learning disabled? By her voice? By the way she laughed?" Miller asked. "No, I don't recall any laughs or chuckles," Myers said. Miller pointed out his client only had 90 minutes of sleep that night and may have been suffering from hyperthermia. Myers said he didn't know the symptoms of hyperthermia but said she looked fine to him. Under re-direct questioning by Keene, Myers said Baker could have ended the interview at any time by asking for a lawyer or refusing to talk. Keene again asked Myers if he thought Baker was suffering from hyperthermia. He said no. "When I would ask her a question, she would readily answer the question. She wasn't complaining of any medical problem. She wasn't complaining that she felt faint or she felt hot," he said.
Baby sitter says she knew her rights "I've seen it on TV," Baker says

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer OWEGO - A baby sitter charged with killing a 3-year-old child testified Monday she learned about Miranda rights against self-incrimination from movies and television shows. "I've seen it on TV and in the movies. WHen somebody gets arrested, they read them their rights," Eunice Baker said Monday as her second-degree murder trial entered it's third week in Tioga County Court. Baker once again sat in the witness chair as Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene continued his lengthy cross-examination that began last week. READ MORE

Baker is accused of dressing Charlotte Kurtz, the child she was baby sitting last summer, in socks and corduroy pants, locking her in a bedroom and turning up the heat on a hot summer night until the child died of hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. Defense attorney Scott Miller of Ithaca claims the child died accidentally after a short circuit caused the furnace to overheat and that Baker didn't perceive the danger the child was in. He also claims that Baker, whose IQ is in the 70's, does not have the intelligence to understand or freely and voluntarily waive her Miranda rights. But Baker on Monday was able to explain those rights to Keene. She also said she asked police for a lawyer but was never given one. "Did you know at the time when you started the second (police) statement that you could just remain silent?" Keene asked. "He just wanted to get statements typed up and done. He just wanted to keep going," Baker said of state Police Investigator Michael Myers, who interviewed her after the child's death. "He pressured me into making those statements. By the tone of his voice. He was getting really loud." Baker also told Keene she was given specific instructions by the child's legal guardian, Donna Hammond, to always put the child to bed at 9 o'clock and to lock her in the room. "But you knew there were exceptions to that rule, didn't you?" Keene asked, such as if the child had to go to the bathroom. "Didn't you think her (Charlotte's) statement to you: 'It's hot in here' was a good enough reason to let her out?" "I didn't think about that," Baker said. Charlotte kicked the door and screamed to be let out which angered Baker, she testified. "I got mad because she was kicking on the door and screaming. I said: 'Please stop the kicking and screaming,'" Baker said. "I made sure that she got back in bed, then closed the door and locked it." "Did you think that she was kicking the door just to be annoying to you?" Keene asked. "A little bit. SHe would do that sometimes," Baker said. Keene also pointed out Baker contradicted some of the statements she made to the police through her own testimony in court. For example, she told police she never called the landlord, Michael Lumnah, to tell him the partment was getting hot. But in court Monday, she testified she called him several times on his cell phone, which was apparently off. Then she changed her story and said she thought about calling him but didn't. "Didn't you just tell the jury you called the landlord several times? Are you having a little trouble telling the truth here?" Keene asked. "No," Baker said. Under direct questioning by Miller, Baker said she felt nervous and sometimes confused when Keene was questioning her. "Why didn't you tell him you were confused?" Miller asked. "I just wanted to answer him," she said. If she could go back to June 29 when Charlotte died, she would have handled the situation differently, she told Miller. "I should have taken her outside," she said.
Pathologist: heat killed child. Baby sitter may have suffered hyperthermia also, doctor says.

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer OWEGO - A forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz last year testified Monday the child had no medical problems other than the hyperthermia that killed her. "There was no evidence of infection. There were no tumors. There was no bleeding," Dr. Sara Funke testified Monday in Tioga County Court. But a nurse who tried to save Kurtz the night she died testified the child had suffered at least two episodes in which she stopped breathing. READ MORE

Meanwhile, a testimony from another doctor indicated that defendant Eunice Baker may have been suffering from hyperthermia, a raised body temperature, the night the child died. Baker, who is on trial for second-degree murder, is accused of dressing the child in extra clothing, locking the child in a bedroom, and turning up the heat on a hot summer night until she died of hyperthermia. Funke testified that she came to the conclusion that Kurtz died of hyperthermia after ruling out other causes of death and relying on evidence provided by medical personnel at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, PA., who tried to revive the child. Pediatrics nurse Lynn Strykowski testified she measured the child's temperature at 108 degrees, the highest the electronic probe would go, at 3:55 a.m. and 107.7 degrees an hour later. Another nurse, Shelly Jones, testified under cross-examination by Baker's attorney, Scott Miller of Ithaca, that the child was rushed to the hospital on Sept. 16, 1996, after she stopped breathing. On Dec. 14, 1997, she was taken to the hospital after she held her breath and passed out, according to medical records Jones reviewed on the stand. Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene questioned both Funke and Dr. John Pacanowski, a pediatrician at Robert Packer Hospital who tried to save Kurtz, about how people die from hyperthermia. Pacanowski said it is a rare form of death, killing about 4,000 people annually in the United States. "This is by no means instantaneous. It takes time," Funke said. How long it takes someone to die depends on factors like the person's age. "The very young and the very old are more susceptible to it," she said. Pacanowski described hyperthermia as a "multi-system failure" where the brain suffers a lack of oxygen, the heart begins to fail and blood pressure drops. Symptoms include headache, nausea, muscle cramps, numbness, tingling in their toes, and eventually confusion, a stupor and finally a coma and death. Keene asked about the effect of putting on extra clothing while someone suffers from hyperthermia. "Anything that would blockade that evaporation would be detrimental," Pacanowski said, noting the extra clothing could prevent the person from sweating and cooling the body. Last week, several witnesses testified that Baker's face was red and she showed no emotion as she sat on a couch while others tried to resuscitate Kurtz. Miller asked Pacanowski how an adult sitting in a hot room for several hours would react. "Confusion would set in at some point?" Miller asked. "Eventually," Pacanowski said. "A zombie-like daze?" he asked. "Yes," Pacanowski replied. "Elevated body temperature can result in erratic behavior in a child or an adult?" Miller asked. "Correct," Pacanowski replied. Miller asked Funke if dehydration for a few days or a week would predispose someone to death by hyperthermia. She said it could but she couldn't tell if Kurtz was suffering from dehydration because the child was given intravenous fluids at the hospital. In other testimony Monday, the child's paternal grandmother, Kathy Kurtz of Candor, testified the child cried and said she didn't want to go home to Donna Hammond, her legal guardian, when she visited her grandparents the last couple of weekends before her death. Former Owego Police officer Paul Brunner admitted he wasn't sure if he secured the side door to the residence where the child died. He also testified that Deputy Police Chief James DeVita was contacted about the death. DeVita advised Brunner and Officer Jeff Waslyn to take statements from witnesses, and secure the scene until he arrived at 7 a.m., Brunner testified. But brunner said he never questioned witnesses about the thermostat. "I don't recall the issue of the thermostat even coming up," he said.
Baker denies killing girl. Defendant says she can't work thermostat.

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer OWEGO - Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene calmly walked up to the witness stand Thursday, handed a thermostat to accused murderer Eunice Baker and asked her to turn the dial from one setting to another. She stared at him blankly and shook her head slightly. "No, I can't. I don't know how to work this," Baker said. READ MORE

Baker is accused of turning up that same thermostat as high as it would go last June until the 3-year-old she was baby-sitting, Charlotte Kurtz, died of hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. She is accused of dressing the child in extra socks and corduroy pants and locking her in her bedroom before turning up the heat. Baker took the stand in her own defense Thursday and said she was pressured into confessing to killing the child by a state police investigator. The defense began it's case Thursday and the prosecution rested after six days. The prosecution called 35 witnesses, including state police Investigator Susan Mulvey, who testified Thursday. A hush fell over the Tioga County courtroom as more than 35 onlookers leaned forward in their seats to hear Baker, who was neatly dressed in a navy blue blazer and slacks. Baker blinked her eyes and smiled nervously, sometimes leaning her head to one side as she answered questions from her attorney, Scott Miller of Ithaca. Her voice seemed clear and strong but Baker sometimes seemed childlike, talking about her love of cartoons and a letter she wrote her dog from jail. "I sent her some letters and some pictures that i traced out of coloring books," she said. Her favorite cartoon character is the Tasmanian Devil because "when he spins around, he knocks trees down." Baker revealed she moved from Spencer to 53 Spencer Ave., Owego, in March 1999 where her sister; Charlotte's mother, Nikki Sherman; and Baker's former boyfriend, Gary Scherter, were living. She said she enjoyed baby-sitting Charlotte. "She was a pretty nice girl," she said of Charlotte. Baker also revealed Charlotte's legal guardian, Donna Hammond, told her to always put Charlotte to bed at 9 p.m. and to lock the door so she couldn't get out of the room and "pull things out of boxes." Baker seemed confused when talking about her baby-sitting salary, which began with $10 a week and gradually rose to $50. "Is that per day or per week?" Miller asked. "Per day," Baker said. "$50 per day? How much per day, Eunice?" Miller said. "Oh, $2 a day when I started," Baker said. Baker said she got along well with Hammond, but that Hammond's then-fiance, Raymond Hammond, sometimes hit Baker and swore at her. The Hammonds also sometimes hit Charlotte, Baker testified. On June 28, 1999, the night before Charlotte Kurtz died, Baker said she noticed the apartment at 110 Spencer Ave. Getting hot after the Hammonds and Russell Mason, who also lived there, left for their cleaning jobs at Lockheed Martin. But she said she never touched the thermostat. "I didn't want to turn it up too high or put it down too low. I didn't want to mess with it," Baker said. Baker said she dressed Charlotte in a T-shirt and yellow training pants and put her to bed about 9 p.m. She put a fan in her room, which was getting very hot, but removed it, fearing the child would get her fingers caught in the fan. She also said the child put on extra clothes, purple corduroy pants and white socks, which she removed. She identified the clothes in court. Baker said the landlord wasn't home when she called and she didn't think about contacting the Hammonds at work. "Did you think Charlotte was going to die?" Miller asked. "No," Baker replied. Baker said she cried and screamed when Hammond returned from work early in the morning on June 29 and found Charlotte unconcious. She agreed to go to the ploice station and give a statement. In her first interview with State Police Investigator Michael Myers, she indicated the child's death was an accident and she didn't know what caused the apartment to overheat, she said. She said Myers pleasant demeanor changed when he came back to interview her a second time. "He had a really nasty attitude. He said he didn't believe me," Baker said. "I was scared that he was raising his voice to me." "He kept saying he wanted to get this done and over with. He wanted me to sign things that weren't true," Baker said. She said she asked for a lawyer but was never given one. "After you signed all those things, what did you think was going to happen to you?" Miller asked. "I thought he was going to let me go but he didn't," she said. Under cross-examination by Keene, Baker said she didn't understand her Miranda rights against self-incrimination, which Myers and former Owego Police Officer Jeffrey Wasyln read to her. "Did Michael Myers pressure you into giving these statements?" Keene asked. "He didn't believe me about putting the clothes on Charlotte. He pressured me into saying I did," Baker said. Baker passed a simple test posed by Keene by correctly stating that 90 degrees was 10 degrees higher than 80 degrees. He later approached the witness stand and asked her to turn the thermostat. She couldn't but said she had seen her mother turn up the thermostat when she was living at home with her. "Miss Baker, if you have seen your mother turn the thermostat, why didn't you turn it?" Keene asked her. "Because i didn't know how to do it," she replied. Baker said she didn't think about turning the thermostat down on June 29. "That's not what you told Investigator Myers. You told him you thought about it," Keene said. "He wanted me to say that," Baker said. "But that's in the first statement. I thought the first statement was true," Keene said. Baker seemed flustered. Keene asked why she put the child to bed in a stifling bedroom. "I thought she would be more comfortable, that it wouldn't affect her as much as it would affect me," Baker said. "Aren't kids fragile? Don't you know that kids are fragile? Did it occur to you that she feels heat just like big people do?" Keene asked, his voice rising. "Yes," said Baker, who again said that she opened the window before putting the child to bed. "She must have been hot. Don't you think she got a little warm in there?" Keene asked. "I didn't know it was going to get hot in that room when i put her to bed," Baker said.
Baker's testimony riles girl's family. Sherman: "She killed my kid"

By Samme Chittum - Staff Writer With her mother and fiance at her side, a distraught Nikki Sherman erupted in angry tears at the close of testimony Thursday, in which the star witness was the murder defendant in the case - former baby sitter Eunice Baker. "She killed my kid - and I know she did," said Sherman, 20, the mother of Charlotte Kurtz, the 3-year-old who died of hyperthermia while in Baker's care last June. "She needs to tell the truth," sobbed Sherman. READ MORE

In an unusual move, defense attorney Scott Miller called his client to the stand to give her version of what happened the night Charlotte died. Baker, who remained calm on the stand, said she never touched the thermostat, but did hear the furnace come on in the basement and even raised the window in Charlotte's room to let in a cool breeze. Heat from the furnace filled the house, eventually raising Charlotte's body temperature to a fatal 108 degrees. Baker failed to intervene, but the defense argues she didn't perceive the danger to the child. The prosecution said baker turned up the thermostat on purpose and locked Charlotte in her room, leaving her there to die. Relatives and friends of Baker insisted that her appearance on the stand would help her. A friend of Baker's family said she believed Baker's testimony and demeanor would persuede the jury that Baker is innocent. "I think it was obvious she was telling the truth," said Connie Short, who has sat in on the trial alingside Baker's mother, Debra Brown. "I know Eunice. I can tell if Eunice is lying. If Eunice is lying, she avoids the question, she looks down and keeps looking down. She wasn't doing that today." She also said that she believes that the jury will see that Baker, who has a childlike speaking voice and a low IQ, is essentially simple and susceptible to being coerced by an authority figure - a factor in the defense effort to discredit a written confession taken by a state police investigator. "They're going to see that Eunice is handicapped, that she is learning disabled and that the DA was getting her confused," said Short. "The way that Eunice is, if you want her to say something, she will go along and say it." But relatives of Charlotte's said they thought Baker looked coached on the stand. "It was garbage, it was plain garbage," said James Kurtz, the child's grandfather. "Those were his words coming out of her mouth," he said, referring to defense attorney Miller. Kurtz also said Baker didn't appear as childish and mentally defecient as the defense has depicted her. "She's smarter than I am - and I'm not dumb," said Kurtz. Sherman's fiance, Corey Carle, was more blunt. "I think she hung herself going up there," he said. "I think the DA caught her in some lies up there." Baker's mother said she hopes the jury will see the her daughter is "telling the truth, but that Mr. Keene was trying to make her into a liar," she said, referring to District Attorney Gerald Keene. Keene began his questioning is a gentle, conciliatory tone, but by the end of the day had turned up the pressure on Baker, accusing her of contradicting a statement given to the police the morning after Charlotte died. "He's going to break her, I think," said Kathy Kurtz, Charlotte's grandmother. "I hope he does." Brown Said that an impartial jury will realize that Keene is "going to use as many tactics as he possibly can." "If they (the jury) follow her closely, they will see she doesn't have the ability to really process things." One regular courtroom observer said she is still not sure what to think and wants to see what else emerges as the defense presents it's case next week. "I've got a lot of questions on my mind," said Joyce Giles. "I've got to process everything I've heard and really weigh it." "The jury has a tough job in a case both unusual and complex," she added. "I wouldn't want to be sitting in that chair" in the jury box, she said.
Jury sequestered in Baker case. Deliberations will resume this morning.

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer OWEGO - After 7½ hours of deliberations Wednesday, Tioga County jurors failed to reach a verdict in the case of a 23-year-old Owego baby sitter charged with second-degree murder. Jurors were sequestered overnight at a local motel and will resume deliberations this morning. READ MORE

Eunice Baker is accused of dressing 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz in socks and corduroy pants, locking her in a bedroom and turning up the heat until she died of hyperthermia - an abnormally high body temperature - on June 29, 1999. Testimony ended Tuesday after the jury heard 35 prosecution witnesses, six defense witnesses and four rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution over nine days. Family members from both sides tried to be patient after a long day sitting on benches waiting for a verdict. "I was disappointed they didn't reach a verdict, but I think it's worth waiting for," said Nikki Sherman, Charlotte's mother. Debra Brown, Baker's mother, said she felt "encouraged because as the jury has come out to ask questions, I feel they are really looking at the definition, the charges and all aspects of the case." In addition to two counts of second-degree murder and three lesser charges, jurors are considering a second count of first-degree manslaughter, added on Wednesday. They could find her guilty of a lesser charge, which could be either two counts of first--degree manslaughter, one count of second-degree manslaughter, or one count of criminally negligent homicide. The difference is the amount of time she would spend in prison if found guilt. Second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life, while criminally negligent homicide, the lowest charge, carries a maximum penalty of up to four years in prison. Tioga County Court Judge Vincent Sgueglia spent more than an hour reviewing charges with jurors. Two alternate jurors were released from serving, but two female alternate jurors will stay on. Alternates won't deliberate unless one of the jurors becomes ill or is somehow unable to continue. The jury consists of seven women and five men, ranging from a housewife to a Lockheed Martin engineer to a telephone company lineman. "In reaching your verdict, you're not to be affected by sympathy for either side nor by what you think the reaction of the other parties or the public will be nor whether your verdict will be popular or unpopular," Sgueglia said. "Now take the case and deal fairly with the parties and with the defendant and the people." Jurors began deliberations behine closed doors at 11 a.m. Twenty minutes later, they came back and asked Sgueglia to read back the definition of second-degree murder. At 12:15 p.m., they asked to see all the evidence in the case. After the lunch break, jurors asked to have the testimony of prosecution witness Christina McCloskey read back. McCloskey took care of Charlotte for a few months in 1998 and testified about meeting Baker with Charlotte in a stroller just four days before her death. McCloskey testified the child was glad to see her. That apparently annoyed Baker who pushed the child down in the stroller, causing the child to roll her eyes at Baker, McCloskey said. Baker also complained about the long hours and low pay she was receiving in her job, McCloskey said. The jurors also heard McCloskey's second testimony on Tuesday when Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene called her back to the stand to rebut Baker's claim she had never touched a thermostat before. McCloskey said she visited her friend, Jennifer Pessagno, who also previously testified for the prosecution that Baker had complained to her about the baby-sitting job a few weeks before the child died. Baker was there listening to Shania Twain. The room was hot, and Pessagno asked Baker, who was closest to the thermostat, to turn it down to 70 degrees. But the room was still warm. "Jennie asked her again to turn it to 60. She went over there, no problem, and turned it down," McCloskey said. At 4 p.m., jurors asked the judge to read back the definition of the second count of second-degree murder, a depraved indifference to human life. Meanwhile, there was little for families, friends and onlookers to do except read, sip coffee and smoke cigarettes on the courthouse steps. Baker seemed relaxed as she sat in a corner room, reading and occasionally chatting and joking with her mother, Debra Brown, who sat nearby. "We are just sitting and wondering what's going to happen," said Kathy Kurtz, Charlotte's paternal grandmother. Meanwhile, Brown read USA TODAY and a book about Moses and hoped for the best for her daughter. "This is what my many months of wait have been all about since she was incarcerated in the Tioga County Jail," Brown said. Jurors apparently continued to struggle with the depraved indifference count of second-degree murder. At 6:50 p.m., the jury requested the judge again read back the definition and the elements that must be proven. At 7:40 p.m., the jurors again requested an explanation of the complex charge. At 8 p.m., the jurors called it a night and headed out to supper and then to a nearby motel where they were sequestered for the night. - Staff writer Samme Chittum contributed to this report.
Baker guilty of murder

By Connie Nogas - Staff Writer OWEGO - A Tioga County jury pronounced Eunice Baker guilty of second-degree murder Thursday, finding her responsible for the death of a 3-year-old child inside a sweltering apartment. Nikki Sherman, the mother of Charlotte Kurtz who died of hyperthermia last summer, held hands with her mother, Vickie Foster, and a friend as she waited for the verdict to be announced. Her knuckles whitened as the jury forewoman pronounced defendant Eunice Baker not guilty of the first count of second-degree murder, intentional murder. READ MORE

A few seconds later, Tioga County Clerk Peter Hoffman asked the jury its verdict on the second count of second-degree murder, which charges that Baker acted with a depraved indifference to human life. "We find the defendant guilty," the forewoman said. Baker's face reddened and she blinked nervously but otherwise showed no emotion. Sherman slumped forward and cried, still holding hands with her mother and friend. Debra Brown, Baker's mother, revealed no emotion. Family friend Connie Short took off her glasses and wiped away tears but said she was too upset to comment. Baker lowered her head as she was led away in handcuffs. She faces a maximum term of 25 years to life and a minimum of 15 years to life when she is sentenced April 7. Her attorney, Scott Miller of Ithaca, said he plans to appeal but he doesn't yet know what grounds he will use. After nine days of testimony and 14 hours of deliberations spread over two days, the jury of five men and seven women reached its verdict just before 4 p.m. Thursday. Jurors could have found Baker guilty of lesser charges, including two counts of first-degree manslaughter, one count of second-degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. But they could only consider the lesser charges if they decided she was not guilty of the two murder charges. The 23-year-old Baker was accused of dressing Charlotte in socks and corduroy pants, locking her in a bedroom and turning up the heat on a sweltering June night last year at Charlotte's home at 110 Spencer Avenue. The child died of hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. Several hours after the child died early on the morning of June 29, 1999, her bedroom still measured 110 degrees, according to testimony from a state police investigator. Sherman cried quietly as she faced the media on the courthouse steps after the verdict was read. "She got justice," Sherman said of Charlotte. "Now she can rest in peace. I'm just happy she's with God now." Brown was disheartened. "I believe that Eunice is not capable of planning and plotting to murder another human being. She doesn't have the cognitive abilities." Baker's IQ was measured at 73 by one psychologist and 78 by another, which puts her in the borderline retarded range. An average score is 100. As deliberations dragged through a second day Thurday, jurors continued to struggle with the complex definition of second-degree murder, which charges that the person exhibited a depraved indifference to human life. They asked the judge to read back the definition twice on Wednesday and also requested an explanation of the complex charge. On Thursday they asked for clarification of the elements of second degree murder three times. At 3:15 p.m., they listened to a reading of testimony give by Sanford Drob, a psychologist who testified for the prosecution on Monday that despite her low IQ, Baker could perform everyday tasks. As jurors continued to wrestle with the second degree murder definition, defense attorney Miller's shoulders slumped lower and lower and his usually smiling face looked grim. Sensing the jury was going to agree on second-degree murder, he prepared Baker and her mother for the verdict a half-hour before it was read. Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene, who won his first major conviction since taking office in January, said after the verdict he thought Baker's own testimony was crucial. I think her only chance was to get on the stand and tell a credible story about why she didn't do something,& Keene said. I think her testimony may have fallen a little bit short on that. But Miller doesn't regret sending his client to the stand to tell her side of the story. "They had to hear from her. They just interpreted Eunice's testimony differently than i had hoped," Miller said after the verdict. "I think trying to figure out who Eunice Baker is in only a couple of hours on the stand is probably an impossible task. To some people she may appear smarter than she actually is." A key issue in the case was whether Baker had the intelligence to preceive the danger to the child when the apartment began heating up. Baker's testimony revealed she knew the room was getting hot and the child was screaming to be let out. "I think anyone in that situation would have to realize that when a child is pounding on the door and screaming she hot and wants to be let out, they ought to respond to that in some way," Keene said. Bakers response was to turn up the television so she couldn't hear the screaming and leave her locked in the bedroom, although she did check on the child a few times. "I think she's got enough intelligence to have done something in that situation and she didn't," Keene said. Even though her IQ is low, she scored well in some parts of the IQ test, which measured general knowledge and verbal skills, Keene said. Another key aspect was whether baker had the intelligence to freely and voluntarily waive her Miranda rights against self-incrimination. State Police Investigator Michael Myers interviewed her for more than four hours the morning of the child's death. Myers testified that Baker at first told him the child's death was an accident but later changed her story and said she raised the thermostat to kill the child. "If you look at her first statement, she says in there she was aware of what was going on - that the child wanted to get out of the room. That it was tremendously hot in there," Keene said. "There wasn't any explanation in that statement. She knew the kid was in trouble." Baker testified that Myers raised his voice and pressured her to sign the last two statements in which she talked about killing the child and complained about low pay and long hours. Myers, a key witness in the case, spent more than three hours being cross-examined by Miller. He never lost his composure and repeatedly denied he had ever raised his voice to Baker or threatened her. Keene called him back to the stand on Tuesday to rebut Baker's claim about the threats. "I think it did boil down to whether they believed her or believed him," Keene said of Myers and Baker. "I think generally when people get into credibility contests with police officers, all other things being equal, police officers will usually prevail. I'm not syaing they believed Michael Myers because he's a police officer. I think they believed Michael Mysers because he was a credible witness. I think the defendant did have some problems with her credibility." In an odd twist, a service technician for a plumbing and electrical company and a thermostat expert both testified they believed the apartment overheated because of a short circuit. Keene's arguement was that Baker failed to act properly by not rescuing Charlotte, despite the short circuit. "I think probably what the jury concluded is that even though she didn't cause the short circuit, she was certainly aware of the situation the child was in and didn't take the steps she should have done to get the child out of that situation," Keene said. Contacted later, jurors declined comment. Keene praised their work. "Whatever the jury would have done, I would have said they did a good job," Keene said. "It was obvious that they were taking a lot of time." Even the defendant's mother could see the jury's predicament. "It's a very complicated case, a very difficult thing to decide. To have been a juror sitting on the case, it would have been a hard thing to make a decision myself," Brown said.
Baker conviction overturned. Owego baby sitter served almost five years in child's death; DA says he will appeal.

By Greg Erbstoesser and Nancy Dooling - Staff Writers OWEGO - Eunice M. Baker of Owego could soon be a free woman. A state appeals court Wednesday overturned her conviction in the 1999 death of 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz. The state Supreme Court's Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, dismissed a Tioga County jury's second-degree murder verdict and reduced Baker's conviction to a lesser felony charge of criminally negligent homicide. READ MORE

The appellate judges ordered Tioga County Judge Vincent Sgueglia to resentence Baker under the revised conviction. She has already served more than the maximum prison sentence for the crime. Baker, then 22, was baby-sitting in Charlotte's legal guardian's Owego apartment the night the girl died. Baker had locked the child in her bedroom, as directed by the girl's guardian. The wiring between the apartment's thermostat and furnace malfunctioned, causing hot air to blow unceasingly into the apartment that night. The child suffered hyperthermia as a result of prolonged exposure to excessive heat in the bedroom, where authoritites estimated the temperature was 110 degrees. Prosecutors said Baker ignored Charlotte's cries for help June 28 and June 29, 1999. The five judge appellate court ruled that its review of the trial evidence did not show Baker's actions "were committed under circumstances which evidenced a wanton indifference to human life or a depravity of mind," a requirement for one of the two second-degree murder charges she faced. The jury aquitted Baker of intentional murder, also a second-degree murder charge. The appellate court, in its unanimous ruling, stated: "This evidence of the defendant's failure to perceive the risk of serious injury stands unrefuted by the prosecution," adding evidence presented at trial described Baker as "having borderline intellectual function, learning disabilities and a full scale IQ of only 73." While Baker's original sentence was 15 years to life, the maximum term for criminally negligent homicide is four years. Baker began serving time in state prison in april 2000. She also was in Tioga County Jail from June 29, 1999, through April 26, 2000. "She's a free person, she's served her time," said Scott Miller, Baker's defense attorney from Ithaca. Tioga County District Attorney Gerald A. Keene said he will seek to appeal the decision, filing an application with the state Court of Appeals to consider the case. "I think there was sufficient evidence to show the defendant knew what was going on," he said. Keene said he likely will not press to have Baker held in custody while the court considers whether to hear his appeal. Carl Silverstein, a Monticello attorney who handled Baker's appeal, had argued that the conviction should be dismissed or reduced to criminally negligent homicide. He called Wednesday's ruling just. "It's what Eunice deserved," Silverstein said of the justices' decision. "The decision came out exactly as it should have," Miller said. "Nonetheless, I am always surprised to receive a reaffirmation that the system often works." Baker, 27, has been serving her sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a state prison for women in Westchester County. Miller said he has been in frequent contact with Baker over the years. "I don't know that she knows about the ruling," he said late Wednesday. No date has been scheduled for Baker's resentencing, though Miller said he will represent her when she returns to Sgueglia's court.
Baker may be unaware of ruling. News she may be freed is in the mail.

By Nancy Dooling - Staff Writer SPENCER - Eunice Baker may not yet know that her second-degree murder conviction has been thrown out and that she could be freed from prison as early as next week, her mother said Thursday. Debra Brown said prison policy dictates that the only way the two can communicate is by visits or letters. READ MORE

Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, where baker is serving time, is three hours from Brown's Spencer home and out of reach financially for her, Brown said. Baker, 27, has served nearly fiver years of a 15-years-to-life sentence for killing 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz, the child she baby-sat in Owego. "Eunice can't call home, and I can't call her," Brown said. But letters have been mailed, and Brown said she hopes her daughter gets the word soon. On Wednesday, a state appeals court threw out Baker's murder conviction and reduced her conviction to criminally negligent homicide. The justices said Tioga County jurors erred when they convicted Baker, who is borderline mentally retarded, of murder with depraved indifference in Charlotte's death. The facts of the case didn't rise to the level of murder, the appeals court decided. Tioga County District Attorney Gerald A. Keene has said he will seek to appeal the decision. Charlotte died of a high body temperature after Baker locked her in her bedroom at the request of the child's legal guardian. A malfunction in the home's thermostat caused the furnace to run full blast throughout the afternoon and night of June 28, 1999. Baker refused to respond to the child's cries to let her out, prosecutors said. She'd been told by the guardian not to let Charlotte out of her locked room. Baker has already served the maximum time on the lesser homicide conviction and could be freed as early as next week from Bedford Hills, said her trial attorney, Scott Miller of Ithaca. No date has been set for Baker's re-sentencing in Tioga County court, Miller said. Brown's reaction to her daughter's successful appeal is on film. Documentary fimmaker Slawomir Grunberg has captured Baker's story on film from the beginning and wanted to see Brown's reaction to the news first hand, she said. Grunberg, whose documentaries have been shown on the PBS programs Nova and Point of View, plans to call the documentary Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker, Brown said. "What happened was right and just," Brown said of the appeals court decision.
Baker freed in death. Spencer woman spent almostfive years behind bars.

By Nancy Dooling - Staff Writer OWEGO - Eunice Baker got her freedom back Friday. Waiting for her in a Tioga County courtroom was a shiny balloon with the message: "Welcome Home," and the open arms of her mother and friends. READ MORE

Eunice Baker is no longer a murderer, an appeals court said. The 27-year-old Spencer woman spent nearly five years behind bars on a murder conviction that was thrown out Wednesday by a state appeals court. The conviction was reduced to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide and Baker was ordered re-sentenced. Her plump, cherubic face, blond hair and high, little-girl voice are the same as they were almost four years ago, when a jury convicted her of killing the 3-year-old she baby-sat in Owego one long, hot night in June 1999. But sudden, unexpected freedom after years spent in prison won't be easy, said the judge who put Baker there. Tioga County Judge Vincent Sgueglia asked Baker to promise him she'd take things slow in her newfound freedom. "You've been through a situation that's hard to recover from very quickly," the judge said./i> Baker was driven by prison officials to Owego from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. The appeals court reduced the murder conviction to the lesser felony on the grounds that jurors erred when they convicted her. Sgueglia presided over Baker's murder trial and sentenced her to the mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder -- 15 years to life. But on Friday, the judge set her free. Even Baker's mother, Debra Brown, 49, a stoic figure throughout Baker's trial and incarceration, had tears in her eyes. "She's so excited, it's overwhelming," Brown said quietly as Baker came into the courtroom, accompanied only by one corrections officer. Baker gave a small wave to Brown and the others as she came into the courtroom. Her prosecutor, Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene, asked only that Sgueglia sentence her to the 1 1/3 - to four-year sentence the homicide conviction carries. Keene will ask the state's highest court to hear his appeal against Wednesday's decision, he said. Brown, who lives in Spencer, is reluctant to say where Baker will stay. Before and during the trial, Baker was called names by supporters of the family of Charlotte Kurtz, the 3-year-old who died of hyperthermia the night Baker baby-sat her in the child's home. Brown said she believes anger over the child's death still simmers in the community. Only Baker's family members and friends were present for Friday's sentencing. A malfunctioning thermostat to the houses's furnace caused the furnace to run constantly the night Charlotte died, experts said. Baker had been instructed by Charlotte's legal guardian to lock the child in her bedroom, and Baker ignored Charlotte's cries to be let out. Kurtz was unresponsive when her legal guardian returned home from work early the next morning. Baker is borderline mentally retarded and could not understand the consequences of her actions that night, Carl Silverstein, her appeals attorney, argued in the appeal. "I've got my life," Baker said as she climed into a sport utility vehicle, clutching a white teddy bear after gaining her freedom. "It feels so good to me." Scott Miller, Baker's trial attorney, has asked himself for four years if he could have done anything during the trial that would have made a difference in the outcome. Wednesday's court decision, pinning the blame on the 12 jurors who convicted Baker of murder, was vindication, he said. "For Eunice, the system worked," he said.

The Educator's Guide

Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker

An Educator's Companion to the Film I. General Information on Mental Retardation • What is Mental Retardation? • What is Borderline Mental Retardation? • What Causes Mental Retardation? II. Mental Retardation and the Law • Why is there a disproportionate number of people with mental retardation in the incarcerated population? • Why is it often difficult to provide mentally retarded defendants with justice? • Why is it so important that the criminal justice system understand Mental Retardation? • Why are mentally retarded individuals less likely to be granted parole? • What is being done to address the injustices faced by mentally retarded offenders? What is Mental Retardation? Mental retardation is a disability that affects approximately 2.5 to 3 percent of the general population. It does not discriminate - people of different racial, ethnic, educational, social and economic backgrounds can all be affected. According to the American Association of Mental Retardation, the disability, which originates before the age of 18, is characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as demonstrated by conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. Intellectual functioning refers to the person's general mental capability - their ability to reason, solve problems, comprehend ideas, and learn quickly. This is often measured using a standardized Intelligent Quotient (IQ) test administered by a professional. A person's adaptive skills are the daily living skills that they need in order to successfully live, work and play in the community. Some examples are communication, self-care, social skills, leisure, health and safety, self-direction, reading, writing, basic math, community use and work. These kinds of strengths and deficiencies may be determined by formal testing, observations, interviewing important people in the person's life, interviewing the person him or h erself, and interacting with the individual in his or her daily life. A person is usually considered to be mentally retarded if he or she meets three criteria: the condition is present before the age of 18; his or her IQ is below 70-75; and significant limitations exist in two or more of the adaptive skill areas. What is Borderline Mental Retardation? More recently called borderline intellectual functioning, borderline mental retardation is a classification of mental ability that covers people with I.Q. scores in the range of 71 to 84 and only slight impairments in adaptive behavior. An important thing to remember when discussing intelligence is that any obtained IQ score must always be considered in light of its standard error of measurement, appropriateness, and consistency with administration guidelines. Flexibility in the I.Q. standard is important because tests given at different times may show slight variations due to differences in the tests and because of testing error. Since the standard error of measurement for most IQ tests is approximately 5, it is impossible to give a precise ceiling for mental retardation (hence the range of 70-75 given above). What Causes Mental Retardation? According to The ARC, a national organization of and for people with mental retardation and their families, the disability can be caused by any condition which impairs development of the brain before birth, during birth, or in the childhood years. Although several hundred different causes of mental retardation have been discovered, the reason for the disability still remains unknown in more than one-third of the people it affects. More than five hundred genetic diseases are associated with mental retardation. Some of these are the result of gene abnormalities that are inherited from parents, others are the result of an infection during pregnancy, and still others are the result of factors such as overexposure to x-rays. One example is Fragil X syndrome, a single gene disorder that happens sporadically and is the leading inherited cause of mental retardation. Problems during pregnancy can also be blamed for the disability. A pregnant woman's malnutrition, illness, or use of alcohol and drugs are just a few of many potential risks. The unusual stress of premature birth and low birth weight are also factors that can predict serious problems. Still other reasons for the disability are the result of impaired development during a person's youth. Childhood diseases such as whooping cough and measles can damage the brain, as can accidents such as a blow to the head, or environmental toxins that damage the brain and nervous system. Finally, research has suggested that poverty and cultural deprivation may also play a role. Children in disadvantaged areas may suffer from factors that lead to mental retardation, such as malnutrition and inadequate medical care. In addition, children in poor families may not have access to many of the day-to-day experiences and activities afforded other youngsters - such under-stimulation can potentially result in irreversible damage, thereby causing mental retardation. Why is there a disproportionate number of people with mental retardation in the incarcerated population? This is a difficult time for both people with disabilities who get involved in the criminal justice system and for the police officers who want to assist them. People with disabilities who have lived in institutional settings, group homes or in their own homes with parents or caregivers who did not encourage their independence have traditionally not been given the opportunity to make their own decisions or taught how to recognize potential criminal involvement. Consequently, they often unintentionally become involved in criminal situations, usually as a victim or as a scapegoat who is used by others to carry out criminal behavior. The vast majority of people with mental retardation never break the law. Nevertheless, mentally retarded people may be disproportionately represented in America's prisons. Although people with mental retardation constitute somewhere between 2.5 and 3 percent of the U.S. population, experts estimate they may constitute up to 10 percent of the prison population. The disproportionate number of persons with mental retardation in the incarcerated population most likely reflects the fact that people with this impairment who break the law are more likely to be caught, more likely to confess and be convicted, and less likely to be paroled. It may also be that some of the people with mental retardation who are serving prison sentences are innocent, but they confessed to crimes they did not commit because of their characteristic suggestibility and desire to please authority figures. Low intelligence and limited adaptive skills mean that people with mental retardation often miss social "cues" that other adults understand. They may act in ways that seem suspicious, even when they have done nothing wrong. When questioned by authority figures, they often smile inappropriately, fail to remain still when ordered to do so, or act agitated and furtive when they should be calm and polite. People with mental retardation may also engage in criminal behavior because of their characteristically poor impulse control, difficulty with long-term thinking, and difficulty handling stressful and emotionally fraught situations. They may not be able to predict the consequences of their acts or resist a strong emotional response. The homicides committed by people with mental retardation acting alone are almost without exception unplanned, spur of the moment acts of violence motivated by panic, fear, or anger, often committed when another crime, such as a robbery, went wrong. Attributes common to mental retardation may also contribute to criminal behavior. Many people with mental retardation are picked upon, victimized and humiliated because of their disability. A desire for approval and acceptance and the need for protection can lead a person with mental retardation to do whatever others tell him. People with mental retardation can often fall prey when people with greater intelligence decide to take advantage of them. Many of the cases in which people with mental retardation have committed murder involved other participants -- who did not have mental retardation -- and/or occurred in the context of crimes that were planned by other people. Low intellectual skills and limited planning capacities also mean that people with mental retardation are more likely than people of normal intelligence to get caught if they commit crimes. As a result, they make good "fall guys" for more sophisticated criminals. Why is it often difficult to provide mentally retarded defendants with justice? When mentally retarded individuals come into contact with the criminal justice system, they have few organized resources to turn to for information, training, technical assistance, and referral. Most attorneys, judges, law enforcement personnel, forensic evaluators, and citizens on juries lack adequate and appropriate knowledge to apply standards of due process in a way that provides mentally retarded defendants with justice. If a person is so profoundly retarded as to be deemed mentally incompetent, he or she will not be required to stand trial, yet in practice findings of mental incompetence are rare. This is especially true for people with mild retardation who are still significantly impaired in their ability to understand and protect their rights. The term "mild" is often misleading, as mental retardation - regardless of its severity - has a profound impact on an individual's life, and is especially troublesome when such individuals become involved in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, a person with mental retardation may not feel comfortable disclosing that he has a disability due to fear of being devalued. Therefore, authorities in a position to help the defendant may not be able to identify the individual as mentally retarded and therefore do not respond appropriately. Even competent lawyers who are anxious to help their clients may fail to identify their clients' retardation or may be unable to access funds for a psychological evaluation. Routine screening would be required to identify mental retardation in defendants. But even when a judge suspects a mental disability, he or she cannot usually act on this suspicion because, despite the fact that mentally retarded persons make up at least 4% of the prison populations, there are few provisions to treat them any differently. Why is it so important that the criminal justice system understand Mental Retardation? irst, it is important that people involved in the criminal justice system understand that mentally retarded defendants, in an attempt to please authority figures, may give incriminating but inaccurate confessions. Many such defendants have been known to falsely confess to crimes or to follow suggestive questioning from the police. Unreliable confessions are perhaps the most likely pitfall for both the suspect and the police. It is obviously not in the interests of the police to obtain false confessions, not only because of the injustice to the accused, but because they then fail to arrest the real criminal and protect society. Unfortunately, when police are not aware of the potential for false confessions, it is often hard to safeguard against them because people with mental retardation also often waive their Miranda rights without understanding what they are doing. The well known "Miranda warnings" required to be given to an arrestee ("you have the right to remain silent, to have a lawyer, etc.") may not be understood by a person with mental retardation and therefore the offer of a lawyer may be inappropriately refused. Since persons with mental retardation tend to provide more incriminating evidence to prosecutors than other defendants, they are less successful at plea bargaining. When they go to trial, their testimony may be viewed as less credible because aggressive prosecutors can make them appear unreliable. A defense lawyer must be able to understand and utilize the mental disability of a mentally retarded client to persuade the prosecutor to address such considerations in the plea bargain. Alerting and educating the prosecutor not only to the mental disability itself, but to plans for prospective treatment related to and in correction of any future criminal conduct, could go a long way to having the charges mitigated, suspended in contemplation of dismissal, or having the sentence reduced. Why are mentally retarded individuals less likely to be granted parole? Persons with mental retardation are typically housed with the general prison population, where they are often abused or victimized. They tend to rely on physical responses to physical threats and are thus often reclassified to higher security levels. That, together with a poor record of program participation and an inability to impress parole boards on interview, makes them less likely to be granted parole as early as the average inmate. Once released, mentally retarded persons often have problems meeting their parole requirements and find it more difficult than the average inmate to get a job. What is being done to address the injustices faced by mentally retarded offenders? Although the typical mentally retarded offender costs the public more for incarceration than does the average person convicted of similar crimes, only a few cities -- Boston, Fort Worth, and Cleveland among them - have programs that aid the transition of mentally retarded parolees to society. Programs that offer daily structure and work to mentally retarded participants seem to considerably reduce their rearrest rates. The objective of such programs is not to excuse mentally retarded offenders from punishment, but to recognize their special needs and, in doing so, foster their return to law-abiding behavior, thereby saving taxpayers money. If the potential savings are not enough to induce states to change the way they handle offenders with mental retardation, they are likely to face litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That federal law, signed in 1990, bans discrimination based on disability. In reports interpreting the act, the U.S. Department of Justice staff has made it clear that states cannot ignore the needs of prisoners with mental retardation.