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Daniel Baker is Guilty, but Mentally Ill; What Does That Mean?

Guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty by reason of insanity. Guilty but mentally ill. All four were possible outcomes at Daniel Baker’s trial, but the last verdict was the one chosen by the judge, and it is not the same as the insanity defense shown on movies and TV.

For those unfamiliar with Baker’s case, he was accused of bludgeoning his girlfriend’s mother, Marina Aksman, to death after she told Baker that he could no longer see her “cognitively impaired” daughter, reports the Chicago Tribune. Baker threatened the deceased woman, and her husband, in a voicemail. He then drove to their home, crashed his car, beat Aksman to death with a baseball bat, and then took off with his girlfriend in her parents’ car.

There was no dispute over whether or not Baker committed the murder - his attorneys admitted the killing. Instead, they argued that due to a mental disease or defect, he was unable to appreciate the criminality of his conduct. That is the standard for the insanity defense in Illinois. If the defendant meets that standard, they are found not guilty by reason of insanity and typically confined to a mental treatment facility until they are found to no longer be a danger to society.

The judge, while agreeing that Baker suffered from mental illness, did not find that Baker's conduct was a product of that illness. Instead, he stated that Baker "was simply acting in a fit of blind rage, not insanity."

So what does a guilty but mentally ill verdict mean? It means that the defense proved, more likely than not, that Baker suffered from mental illness but didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his mental illness prevented him from appreciating the criminality of his act. It means that Baker will still face a sentence of 20 years to life, like any other defendant convicted of murder. However, he will receive treatment for his mental illness in prison.

This may not be the end of the case, however. Baker's attorneys plan on appealing the verdict. One of their planned appeals will challenge the earlier ruling that Baker was fit to stand trial. His attorney stated that Baker had difficulty cooperating with his defense and called him "the most difficult client I've ever had."

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