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Former pastor gets prison for abuse

A former Ashland youth pastor was sentenced Thursday to more than a decade in prison after admitting he sexually abused a girl who at one point lived in his home.

Kenneth Leo Baker, 44, was sentenced to 10½ years in prison in Jackson County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to sexual contact with a juvenile starting in late 2006. The victim was 13 years old when the abuse began, though it "lasted much longer," according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Terry Smith-Norton who prosecuted the case.

The victim declined to appear at the hearing or to submit a written statement, but Smith-Norton said the victim was "profoundly affected" by Baker's actions because he was in a position of trust at First Baptist Church of Ashland. 

Smith-Norton said the victim has "made great strides," recently graduating from college, starting a career and is now engaged to be married.

Samantha Evans, Baker's court-appointed defense lawyer, said her client is "deeply remorseful." She said he's undergone a polygraph indicating there were no other victims. Baker will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Baker broke down in tears prior to sentencing, apologizing to the victim and saying he "did wrong."

"I'm ashamed of myself, I'm ashamed of what I've done," Baker said. "I don't want to cause any more hurt."

Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia sentenced Baker to 126 months in prison after Baker pleaded guilty to two felony counts of first-degree sexual abuse and sexual penetration in the second degree. Sexual abuse in the first degree is a Measure 11 crime that carries a 75-month mandatory minimum sentence.

Mejia said this is the second case he's seen this month in which a man active in church ministry violated his position of trust.

"I don't know (why), but it just happens way too much," Mejia said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Kenneth Leo Baker