GREENFIELD — Thomas Begley could barely hold back his anger, his hurt, as he took the stand. The man across the courtroom, the man who took his son from him, should go to prison for as long as the law allows, he told the judge.
“Eighteen years,” he called out loudly, as his family members seated nearby clutched tissues, dabbing tears.
At the defendant’s table, Joseph Baker sat quietly, his eyes downcast; he had already admitted to what he characterized as a terrible mistake; he didn’t mean to kill Duane Begley that day in April when, in the heat of an argument, he struck the 23-year-old New Palestine man with his car, he said.
On Tuesday, after hearing more than an hour of testimony, Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow ordered Baker, 28, of Greenwood, to spend the first 14 years of his 30-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter in an Indiana Department of Correction prison; the following 16 years will be spent on probation, the first two years of which Baker will be housed in a low-level security community corrections facility.
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Prosecutors and the victim’s family pressed for 18 years behind bars — the maximum time in prison allowed by a plea agreement Baker signed late last year in which he agreed to plead guilty to the Level 2 felony. The victim’s father was the only family member to take the stand at Baker’s sentencing.
Before his sentencing, Baker told the judge it wasn’t a secret that he and Duane Begley didn’t get along, but he terribly regrets what happened. Baker was charged with murder in April after police said he intentionally ran over his ex-wife’s new boyfriend during an argument; Duane Begley died from his injuries a few days later.
The men were seen shouting at each other near the intersection of U.S. 52 and County Road 500W in New Palestine on April 14 in the minutes before Duane Begley was struck after Baker intentionally rear-ended Duane Begley’s minivan with his pickup truck, witnesses told police.
Baker started to drive away but spotted Duane Begley following him on foot, a knife in his hand as if intending to slash one of Baker’s tires, investigators said; Baker put his car in reverse, turned around quickly and struck the man with his car, court document state.
At some point during the altercation, Baker called 911 to report the dispute — a choice that spared him from standing trial on a murder charge, officials said.
Prosecutors determined Baker’s actions were done in the heat of the moment and without the pre-planning a murder charge requires. They offered the defendant a plea deal that called from him to admit to a lesser voluntary manslaughter charge, and Baker accepted about a month before his case was set to go to trial.
Tensions in the courtroom were high while the judge listened to both sides make their case for Baker’s sentence.
Baker’s and Duane Begley’s families packed into Snow’s courtroom, filling opposite sides of the little gallery.
Baker’s brother and uncle testified about the lengths he went to to support his family, sometimes working several jobs at a time, they told the judge.
“He needs to pay the price for what had happened, … but I’m asking for some leniency so that Joe can be back with his family sooner,” said Stephen Baker, the defendant’s uncle.
Baker also stood to address the court, offering his condolences to the family. He said he grieves for Duane Begley’s family, especially for the victim’s newborn child born a few months after the victim’s death; but he also worries about his own three children growing up without a father.
Thomas Begley, was visibly angry during the proceedings. Twice, court security urged him to keep calm.
After Baker’s sentence was announced, as the families were ushered from the courthouse, a shouting match erupted on the street outside.
“I’ll see him in 14 years,” Thomas Duane Begley said, referring to Baker. “You can count on that.”