Former St. Paul’s student to be released pending trial on sexual assault charges

  • Former St. Paul’s student Ben Baker arrives for his arraignment and bail hearing at Merrimack Superiorn Court on Friday, April 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Former St. Paul’s student Ben Baker confers with his lawyer after his arraignment and bail hearing at Merrimack Superior Court in Concord on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/5/2019 4:45:29 PM

A man from Virginia who is accused of sexually assaulting two boys at St. Paul’s School while he was a student decades ago will be released from jail as he awaits trial.

Benjamin Baker, 61, of Falls, Va., has been incarcerated since his arrest in February on felony and misdemeanor sexual assault charges. However, he will now return to Virginia where he’ll submit to electronic monitoring and surrender his passport to police, Merrimack County Judge Richard McNamara ordered during a bail hearing Friday.

Baker, a star wrestler during his time at St. Paul’s in the 1970s, is accused of sexually assaulting two brothers, both of whom were entrusted in Baker’s care for years. Police allege the abuse occurred when Baker was a student and after he graduated in 1974.

Deputy Merrimack County Attorney George Waldron initially argued that the district court order of preventative detention should stand, noting that Baker has no ties to New Hampshire, two homes in Virginia and the financial resources to flee, including to England which he travels to frequently.

“If this were to occur today there would be no question that the court would have to set preventative detention,” Waldron said.

Up until Baker’s arrest in February, his record was largely clean; it included only a driving while intoxicated charge from 15 to 20 years ago. Given those facts, McNamara said he wasn’t convinced that Baker poses a danger to the community at the present time.

“He has no criminal record,” McNamara said to Waldron. “What do I take from that?”

“He got away with it for 40 years and now two men have come forward,” Waldron replied, noting that an absence of criminal charges “doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous.”

The defense objected to Waldron’s characterization of Baker.

“The state has made some sweeping allegations with regard to what Mr. Baker has been doing in the last 40 years,” defense attorney Christina List said.

She argued that Baker should be released pending trial, calling him “an outstanding citizen for the last 40 years.” She said the allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in 2017 and yet Baker did not flee.

“He is extremely eager to defend these charges,” List said.

While McNamara acknowledged the seriousness of the charges against Baker, he said preventative detention goes too far. Instead, he ordered Baker to post $2,500 cash, in addition to $2,500 surety bail to allow for electronic monitoring.

“I think the GPS will satisfy the state’s needs,” he said.

One of the men who said he was abused by Baker looked on from the courtroom benches as McNamara issued his ruling Friday. The man had previously addressed a district court judge at an initial bail hearing weeks ago.

“For years, I was tormented with nightmares about Ben Baker grabbing me,” the man said before Judge M. Kristin Spath in early March. “I saw Ben Baker once at a St. Paul’s School reunion and I was afraid to go back to reunions for a few years even though (the school) was my home.”

The Concord Police Department’s investigation of Baker began in June 2017 when St. Paul’s administrators first learned of the abuse allegations and reported them.

The department was able to pursue charges in the decades-old case because Baker moved out of New Hampshire, thereby stopping the clock on the statute of limitations. In most cases, children who are sexually assaulted by an adult in the state have until age 40 to pursue criminal charges.

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