San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA) - April 18, 1998
Deceased Name: Steven Baker dies veteran policeman's son was slain
Shortly after San Diego police Detective Steven G. Baker arrested a suspect in a double homicide on July 5, 1978, he learned that one of the slain victims was his 16-year-old son.
For the next 14 years, his goal remained the same: execution of the murderer, Robert Alton Harris.
Mr. Baker, who saw Harris executed in 1992 and went on to help found an organization for crime victims, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Somerset, near Sacramento. He was 55.
Until the last three months, when his condition worsened, Mr. Baker served as a commissioner of the Board of Prison Terms in Sacramento. He had been appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994 and reappointed in 1996 to a four-year term.
"When he lost his beloved son, Michael, as a result of a vicious crime, Steve turned his loss and pain into action, becoming a pioneer for victims' rights and a major force in California's crime-reduction efforts," Wilson said yesterday.
"He was a knowledgeable and valued adviser. I relied on his keen understanding of the correctional and parole systems time and again."
After retiring from the San Diego Police Department in 1992, Mr. Baker was active in the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau and became its executive director.
"Because of everything he'd gone through with his son, he was a real inspiration to victims," said Maggie Elvey, the bureau's current director. "His dignity, courage and honesty will give everybody who followed him the strength to go on as he did."
Susan Fisher, state chairman of the San Francisco-based bureau, said, "Steve was a fearless advocate for crime victims. There was no battle he was unwilling to take on."
As a Board of Prison Terms commissioner, Mr. Baker conducted hearings on the suitability for parole of prison inmates with life sentences.
"Attorneys of prison inmates respected Steve's fairness and even-handedness," said Jim Nielsen, chairman of the Board of Prison Terms.
Mr. Baker, a San Diego native, joined the San Diego Police Department in 1972. On the day when his son was murdered, Mr. Baker was among several officers who responded to a robbery at a bank on Mira Mesa Boulevard.
Two suspects, Robert Alton Harris and his brother, Daniel Harris, were arrested a short time later and questioned by police. It was then that Mr. Baker learned that the robbery suspects also were implicated in murders, the victims of which were his son and another 16-year-old, John Mayeski.
The suspects, needing a car for the robbery, had found the boys at a Jack In The Box restaurant on Mira Mesa Boulevard. They ordered Mayeski to drive to a deserted area near Miramar Reservoir.
The boys were shot and killed, and the Harris brothers used the vehicle in their robbery of San Diego Trust & Savings Bank, leaving with $3,000.
Daniel Harris was the key witness against his brother and served time in federal prison. Robert Harris was convicted and sentenced to death in March 1979. After multiple appeals, he was executed April 21, 1992, as Mr. Baker silently watched.
With lethal cyanide gas about to enter the his body. Harris looked Mr. Baker directly in the eye, mouthing the words, "I'm sorry."
Mr. Baker, who wore a lapel pin that day shaped like a hangman's noose, nodded. It wasn't a gesture of forgiveness, he later said, only acknowledgment.
Mr. Baker served in a variety of roles during his two decades with the San Diego Police Department.
"He was a great street cop," said San Diego Police Lt. Jim Collins. "He was 30 when he joined the department, so he had a lot of life experience."
In addition to the tragic death of his son, Mr. Baker had lost a daughter, Tammy, in a motorcycle accident, Collins recalled. Those setbacks and the shooting death of a former partner in the Police Department, Julie Cross, fueled Mr. Baker's interest in serving on the Board of Prison Terms, Collins said.
Friends and associates yesterday described Mr. Baker as good-natured, with a ready smile and a penchant for practical jokes.
"Steve didn't let his son's death destroy his attitude or turn him into a bitter person," said Dave Crow, a retired captain in the San Diego Police Department.
"You take about the consummate professional, that was Steve."
Early in his police career, Mr. Baker trained new recruit officers and served on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team. He received four lifesaving awards and two commanding officer's citations during that period.
From October 1988 until his retirement on Dec. 5, 1992, Mr. Baker was assigned to investigations in the Western Division.
Before joining the Police Department, Mr. Baker worked as an auto mechanic for several years and majored in criminal justice at Miramar College.
He was raised in North Park and graduated in 1960 from San Diego High School.
Survivors include his wife, Donna; a daughter, Linda Herring of San Marcos; and three granddaughters.