(COURIER JOURNAL/LEX 18) — According to the Courier Journal, a prominent Kentucky banker, who is also one of Kentucky's largest Republican donors, urged former Gov. Matt Bevin to pardon Patrick Baker months before the controversial last-minute list Bevin issued.
Terry Forcht, founder of Corbin-based Forcht Bank, has given more than $1 million to Republican candidates, committees and super PACs over the decade, according to the Courier Journal and campaign records.
The Courier Journal reported that Forcht hosted a re-election fundraiser for Bevin on March 23 of this year at his home near London. He reportedly raised $33,150 at the fundraiser. Forcht also donated $100,000 to the Matt Bevin/Jenean Hampton Inaugural Committee in 2015.
The Courier Journal reviewed public records on Tuesday and found that Forcht lobbied Bevin on behalf of Baker twice. Once in a letter in August 2018 and again on June 4, 2019.
"I would like to review my recommendation for him to receive a Gubernatorial Pardon," Forcht wrote in the June 4 note. "I continue to follow this story and feel he would be a good candidate. I know his family and still feel he has turned his life around."
Bevin issued Baker's pardon during his last week in office and stated:
"Patrick Baker is a man who has made a series of unwise decisions in his adult life.The evidence supporting his conviction is sketchy at best. I am not convinced that justice has been served on the death of Donald Mills, nor am I convinced that the evidence has proven the involvement of Patrick Baker as murderer; and I am commuting Mr. Baker's sentence to time served and providing him with a pardon only for charges associated with this conviction.”
Baker was sentenced to 19 years in prison in December of 2017 and was convicted of reckless homicide, robbery and impersonating a peace officer. The Courier Journal was the first to report that Baker's brother and sister-in-law hosted a political fundraiser for Bevin at their Corbin home in 2018. They reportedly raised $21,500 to retire debt from the governor's 2015 campaign.
Members of Baker's family and other Knox County residents with the same last name donated $9,500 to Bevin that day. His sister-in-law and father reportedly donated $2,000 to Bevin's reelection campaign in 2019.
Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records show two employees of Forcht Bank also donated to Bevin’s 2015 campaign. This was the same day of the fundraiser that was held at the Baker home, according to the Courier Journal.
Numerous state legislators, like Republican Senate President Stivers have called for federal and state investigations of Bevin's hundreds of pardons in his last week. The legislators are particularly concerned about the timing of campaign contributions and political access to Bevin, in relation to Baker's pardon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the pardons "completely inappropriate."
“I expect (Bevin) has the power to do it, but looking at the examples of people who were incarcerated as the result of heinous crimes, no, I don’t approve of them,” McConnell said last week.
Forcht’s support for Baker’s release was discovered in The Courier Journal’s review of records related to Baker’s pardon.
In March 2019, during Kentucky's gubernatorial race between Bevin and now Gov. Andy Beshear, Forcht donated $150,000 to the Republican Governor's Association.
Forcht ended his June 4 letter to Bevin by telling him to call if he had any other questions.
According to the Courier Journal, Forcht's assistant emailed a copy of the letter the next day to Bevin's chief of staff, who forwarded it to three attorneys in the governor's office, records show.
State records show the Bevin administration was in constant conversation with Denny Butler months ahead of the Baker pardon. Butler is a former Louisville police detective who has challenged local law enforcement and prosecutors in a lot of reportedly wrongful conviction cases.
In an email to members of Bevin’s staff, Butler criticized Beshear's office for not corresponding with him about starting a conviction integrity unit to look into the Baker case and others.
He told Bevin's officials that he believed Baker was innocent and "the true killer could be identified and held accountable," according to the Courier Journal.
"The Patrick Baker case came to my attention earlier this year through the governor," Butler said in the email.
Butler provided officials with a draft letter written in the governor's words. The letter asked Beshear to launch an investigation into Baker's case. He also asked him to investigate the case of Irvin Edge, who was convicted of murder for hiring a hit man to kill his business partner.
Reportedly, Butler didn't think a pardon should have happened until more investigation could be done into the case.
"In response to the request for pardons by Mr. Edge and Mr. Baker, and after a comprehensive review by my administration, a pardon would not be the appropriate decision in either case," the letter drafted by Butler in the governor's name said, according to the Courier Journal.
Crystal Staley, a spokeswoman for Gov. Andy Beshear, told The Courier Journal on Tuesday that they never received that letter from Bevin's administration.
She said there is no signed copy in the governor's office files. She also said that there is no email suggesting that a letter was sent.
"We are not aware of any conviction integrity unit in Kentucky, and we did not receive a request to investigate the Edge and Baker convictions," Staley said.
Butler did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.
Bevin told The Courier Journal on Saturday that he welcomes an investigation.
Bevin also said he is not only convinced of the innocence of Baker and others he pardoned.
He also suggested that there was corruption among law enforcement that led to the wrongful convictions.
"The way in which these things have gone down has been a remarkable miscarriage of justice," Bevin said, adding that he looked at Baker’s case “for months and months” and had a lot of conversations about his conviction.
Bevin and attorneys for Baker have both cited eyewitness accounts that have the description of the killer’s physical appearance as different than Baker.
His attorneys also suggested that KSP wrongly identified Baker as the shooter. They cited lawsuits against two officers who were leading the case. The lawsuits accused those officers of framing four people who were innocent.
The first letter sent to Bevin pleading for a pardon of Baker was from his mother, Jackie Baker, in March 2018. His father, John Baker, also sent a letter in June of that year.
Several other letters were sent to Bevin asking for a pardon. This included letters from his friends, pastor, fiancée and Baker, according to the Courier Journal.
“I am currently at the Clay County Detention Center, serving a 19-year sentence in which I was wrongfully convicted,” Baker told Bevin.
“The reason for this letter is to ask you to show mercy on my family and I and issue me a pardon. I’ve never been a threat to society. I’m 40 years old and have worked, paid taxes and been a productive citizen.”
On July 4, the pardon application was filed with Bevin's office.
Three weeks later, Bevin went to the campaign fundraiser at the home of Eric and Kathryn Baker.
In his interview with The Courier Journal, Bevin acknowledged speaking to Eric Baker. But he also said that he could not remember if they ever talked about a pardon for Baker.
A month after the fundraiser, Forcht sent his first letter to Bevin and mentioned Baker, along with another person he wanted pardoned.
Forcht wrote that he knew both of the families and knew that both of the individuals had turned their lives around according to the Courier Journal.