After months of proclaiming innocence and refusing to step down as a Henry County commissioner, Steven Baden yesterday entered into a plea agreement and was convicted for chasing a then-14-year-old girl in South Toledo and resigned his elected post.
Baden, 39, entered an Alford plea in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to one count of attempted menacing by stalking, a fifth-degree felony. Judge James Bates ordered a presentencing report and scheduled sentencing for July 5.
Under state law, Baden cannot hold public office because he was convicted of a felony offense. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but pleads guilty to a lesser charge to escape more severe penalties had the case gone to trial.
Baden was indicted in February on a single count of menacing by stalking after the victim, Shyane Miller, identified him as the person who stalked her on Jan. 31 in a parking lot on Broadway in South Toledo.
In court, he made no comments regarding the allegations.
But before appearing before Judge Bates for the hearing to change his plea, Baden released a statement to the news media announcing that he had submitted his resignation to county officials, effective today.
Baden, in the statement, said he believed the conviction didn't require that he leave office and that he was entering into the plea deal to resolve the criminal charge.
"I have elected to proceed in this manner specifically conditioned upon my ability to enter the plea without admitting to having committed the offense alleged. As I have consistently stated from the outset of this case, I am innocent of criminal wrongdoing and have voluntarily chosen this option solely to conclude my court involvement,'' the statement said.
The other Henry County commissioners, Richard Bennett and Rita Franz, yesterday voted to accept Baden's resignation. The action came during the commissioners' regularly scheduled meeting.
A Republican, Baden was paid about $37,000 a year as a commissioner, a post he held since 2003.
Shyane, now 15, was present in the courtroom for the plea. She sat with her mother, Deborah Miller, a 17-year-old brother, and a 19-year-old sister.
Ms. Miller appeared visibly upset when she left the courtroom with her children. She later said in an interview that she was disappointed with the plea agreement because it likely would result in Baden not going to jail.
"He gets to walk and go free. He needs to go to the penitentiary. That is exactly where he belongs,'' Ms. Miller said.
Shyane told authorities that she was with friends at Baden Street and Walbridge Avenue when Baden drove around the block four or five times.
The victim went to her home, changed clothes, and later left to walk to a friend's home. As she was walking through the parking lot at Broadway Food Center, Baden pulled up, got out of his car, chased her across South Avenue, and called her to, "Come here little girl.''
The girl ran to a friend's home and called police, providing authorities with a description of Baden, his car, and the license plate number on the vehicle.
Baden, a former mayor of Hamler, Ohio, where he resides with his wife and two preschool-age sons, faces a sentence of six months to one year in prison. The conviction also carries a possible $2,500 fine.
Baden also would be a candidate for placement in the court's community control program. Formerly known as probation, community control is often ordered as punishment for first-time offenders who commit low-level felonies.
Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Lori Olender said the plea agreement spares the victim from the ordeal of testifying to a jury about the crime. Although she believed she had a strong case, Ms. Olender said there are no guaranties of winning a conviction at trial.
She also pointed out that the maximum sentence of the original charge carries only six additional months of imprisonment.
Mr. Bennett, who is president of the board, said Baden shared with the other commissioners and the staff several days ago that he planned to resign and resolve the case with a plea.
"I have enjoyed working with him. I have been impressed with his financial abilities, and he was a big help in seeing the total picture in the financial situation of the county," he said.
Wearing a black suit and tie, Baden refused to answer questions from the news media as he left the courthouse with his attorneys, Richard Hasbrook and Richard Karcher.
Henry County Republican Party Chairman David Grahn said the party would begin the process of screening applicants to replace the commissioner.
"The resignation will now allow the process to commence of restoring public confidence to the office. I will encourage the local party in a timely matter to take the necessary steps to fill the vacancy with a qualified individual who will make sound decisions as it relates to the county government, placing emphasis on the person who has strong Republican ideas," he said.
In separate requests, Mr. Grahn and Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, had called for Baden to resign or take a leave of absence from office.
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