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September 4, 2014

Life sentence and “closure” in Brad Baker murder

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
After sentencing, Ronald Richard Cloud leaves the Fauquier County Circuit Court for the final time. Escorting him Thursday morning (from left): Deputy 1st Class Warren Williams, Deputy Eric Smith and Deputy 1st Class Jeremy Gallahan.
“Brad’s death had a devastating impact on my mother, who became consumed at first with trying to understand why, and then depressed when no answers could be found. She searched high and low, and tried mightily to cope with the pain of losing her eldest son. Both of my grandmothers grieved at the loss of a grandson who had brought both of them many years of joy, laughter and love.” — from victim’s sister, Blythe Joy Patenaude in her “Family Impact Statement.”
My family and my community of friends and colleagues, on and off my farm, have suffered the effects of years of investigation, rumors, invasion of privacy and incompleteness.
— Andrea Currier, who employed Mr. Baker at Kinloch Farm
Baker Murder Case
• Defendant: Ronald Richard Cloud, 66, serving life sentence for abduction and rape since 1988 in West Virginia.

• Victim: Brad Baker, 30, manager of Kinloch Farm east of The Plains.

• Details: Mr. Baker suffered shotgun wounds to head and groin Dec. 31, 1980, in his house at Kinloch. He died the next day.

• Investigation: Led to four felony charges, including first-degree murder, against Mr. Cloud in January 2013.

• Plea: Guilty to first-degree murder Thursday, Sept. 4, in Fauquier County Circuit Court. Prosecution dropped three other charges.

• Sentence: Life without parole, imposed same day as the plea. Mr. Cloud returned to West Virginia prison.

• Defense attorney: Katherine Martell and Meredith Ralls of FirstPoint Law Group in Fairfax

• Prosecutor: Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamey Cook

• Judge: Herman A. Whisenant Jr.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Exactly 12,301 days after firing fatal shotgun blasts into the head and groin of a young farm manager near The Plains, the murderer accepted justice.

Kinloch Farm Manger Brad Baker’s killer pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

For first-degree murder, Ronald Richard Cloud, 66, got a life prison sentence without parole — his second.

“It’s an odd sense of satisfaction . . . . Yes, closure,” Andrea Currier, who employed Mr. Baker to manage Kinloch more than three decades ago, said outside the courtroom.

Ms. Currier expressed her appreciation for “justice” after “years of feeling beaten down” by the unsolved murder.

Mr. Baker died at age 30 the afternoon of Jan. 1, 1981, less than 24 hours after his shooting in a tenant house on the 1,000-acre farm just east of The Plains.

Earlier on New Year’s Eve 1980, the farm manager had fired James Allen, Mr. Cloud’s stepfather. After a phone conversation with his mother, who would lose her home because of the termination, the killer and his brother drove from Capon Bridge, W.Va., to Kinloch.

That night, Ronald Cloud entered the manager’s home and exchanged gunfire with Mr. Baker.

“I am sorry that it happened,” the murderer told Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. before sentencing Thursday. “I didn’t go there to kill Brad Baker. He kept trying to shoot me.”

Mr. Cloud claimed the farm manager wounded him first with a shotgun blast. It broke Mr. Cloud’s left wrist and damaged his prosthetic left hand, the product of a wound he suffered in the Vietnam War.

But, the killer hit Mr. Baker in the head with a 20-guage shotgun blast.

Later, Mr. Cloud shot the farm manager again — in the groin.

The younger brother, Ernest Cloud testified previously that he witnessed the second shot, intended to make the killing look like a crime of passion.

The Cloud brothers drove through a snowstorm back to West Virginia as the mortally-wounded farm manager lay bleeding on this living room floor. Mr. Baker’s date for a New Year’s Eve party found him there.

He died in a Washington hospital.

On Jan. 2, Mr. Cloud got treated for his broken wrist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Perhaps Fauquier’s most notorious murder went unsolved for decades.

In 1995, the Mr. Cloud’s brother-in-law called the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office with a tip about the case. Going through a divorce, the tipster apparently sought some sort of revenge against the Cloud family, Fauquier Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher said Thursday morning.

But, it would take seven more years to build the case.

Ernest Cloud in late 2012 told a Fauquier special grand jury about the killing.

In December of that year, Donald Cahill, a special investigator for the Fauquier sheriff’s office, got a videotaped confession from Ronald Cloud in a West Virginia prison, where he started a life sentence for abduction and rape in 1988.

Fauquier officials formally charged him in January 2013.

A small Fairfax County law firm took his case pro bono and 18 months of legal wrangling — about Mr. Cloud’s mental competency and admission of the videotaped confession — began.

Ultimately, the court found he understood the proceedings and could help in his defense. The judge also upheld the video’s propriety.

Mr. Cloud on Tuesday told Judge Whisenant he wanted to plead guilty rather than stand trial in October.

Wearing a dark blue prison jumpsuit, white socks and slip-on sneakers, the 66-year-old shuffled quietly into the courtroom at 8:56 Thursday morning.

Shackled at the ankles, waist and wrists, Mr. Cloud sat with his hands clasped and waited.

“Thought I was gonna be here by myself,” he said as defense attorney Meredith Ralls descended steps into the arena-style circuit courtroom.

Throughout the 34-minute proceeding, Mr. Cloud expressed his thoughts clearly to Judge Whisenant. The white-haired defendant talked far more than he had in any previous court appearance.

“I have two doctorates in college,” Mr. Cloud claimed when the judge asked how far he’d gone in school.

Judge Whisenant ran through a standard list of questions for any defendant pleading guilty.

“I know everything I need to know,” Mr. Cloud told the judge at one point.

“Mine alone,” he said of the decision to plead guilty.

Before sentencing, he told the judge:

“Well, sir, I’d like to apologize to the court . . . . I’m ending it today, because I don’t want to go back to that Northwest Regional Jail (in Winchester). They’re a bunch of thieves in there.”

Mr. Cloud alleged that someone has stolen two of his $800 checks from the Veterans Administration.

“I didn’t go there to shoot that man. I told him that and he shot me,” Mr. Cloud said of his confrontation with Mr. Baker. “In 32 years, I went through a lot of things, emotional things . . . . What if he’d had a bigger gun or more bullets? I’d be the one dead, not him.”

The killer added that he had wanted to look Mr. Baker’s family members “in the eye” and “tell them I’m sorry.”

Arguing successfully for a life sentence, Mr. Fisher called the murder a “horrific” crime that deprived a talented young man of his life and the normal opportunities of American citizenship.

“Justice never gives up,” the prosecutor continued. “There is no such thing as a cold case. Simply because a crime is unsolved doesn’t mean it’s off the radar screen of law enforcement or prosecutors.”

He asked for a life sentence to ensure Mr. Cloud never gets out of prison, in the event West Virginia changes its sentencing laws.

Ms. Ralls made a brief argument for a 20-year sentence.

“He’s 66, but physically, he’s much older than that,” the defense attorney said. “As you can see, he’s unsteady on his feet. He’s in poor health.

“There’s no chance he’ll get out” of prison in West Virginia.

Mr. Cloud said he wants to return to his home state.

“I’m gonna take whatever you give me,” he told Judge Whisenant. “I’m gonna die in prison.”

Finally cutting off Mr. Cloud as he repeated assertions that he didn’t mean to kill Mr. Baker, the judge said: “The court is gonna sentence you to life in prison.”

As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Fisher dropped three other felony charges.

The prosecutor said authorities have no plan to charge Ernest Cloud, who rode along, witnessed the fatal shooting and helped hide the crime for decades.

“Have a nice day, sir, and be careful driving home,” Ronald Cloud said to the judge as bailiffs escorted him from the courtroom for the last time.

Sheriff’s statement

“Today’s guilty plea is the result of a long-term investigation conducted by the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies throughout the years,” Sheriff Charlie Ray Fox said in a written statement Thursday morning. “It is a testament to the dedication and professionalism of the detectives and others assigned to this case and our determination to bring justice for Brad Baker and his family.”

Sister’s statement

The victim’s sister, Blythe Joy Patenaude filed this “family impact statement,” which the judge read before sentencing:

“On the evening of Dec. 31, 1980, Brad Baker was senselessly murdered in a premeditated act, perpetrated by the defendant, Ronald Cloud. For more than a quarter-century, Mr. Cloud must have thought no one really cared what happened on that snowy night, and that his act affected no one.

“Today, I am here to tell you, your honor, that Mr. Cloud’s cowardly deed, apparently carried out at the request of his mother, not only robbed our family of a beloved member, but it took away a budding researcher in the field of agriculture, a seasoned civic activist, and a trusted friend and role model to many.

“Brad’s death had a devastating impact on my mother, who became consumed at first with trying to understand why, and then depressed when no answers could be found. She searched high and low, and tried mightily to cope with the pain of losing her eldest son. Both of my grandmothers grieved at the loss of a grandson who had brought both of them many years of joy, laughter and love.

“Although estranged from our family, our father was deeply saddened as well. The loss of the past 34 years has robbed us of years of joy and happiness, as well as opportunities to build new memories and repair a few broken fences. These years have taken away opportunities for Uncle Brad’s four nieces and nephews to know him. He would now be 64 — a lifetime of contributions to family, community, nation and world have been lost.

“I was asked to make some statements about the psychological impact of Brad’s death. My mother suffered the most. Mr. Cloud, who also lost a child to violence, knows of the anguish, pain and rage of a helpless parent. While I am genuinely sorry for his loss, I would have hoped that my mother could have know that Karmic Justice was served in our lifetime.

“Brad’s death prevent him from submitting and defending his doctoral work in agro-economics. It robbed him of his dream of managing the Kinloch Estate. It caused immeasurable pain to those whom he had grown to love and trust — and were like his second family.

“The sum total of Brad’s loss to his family or his friend cannot be measured in a few paragraphs. Our family is deeply indebted to the Sheriff’s Office of Fauquier County and its dedicated force who worked with other agencies, including the FBI, to prepare this case to provide Mr. Fisher’s office with the information needed to prosecute this case.

“I am particularly thankful to Capt. (Charles) Bopp, who has been as transparent about the investigation and process as possible — earning the complete trust and confidence of our family. We are grateful to Mr. Fisher for his service to the people of the state of Virginia for his dedication to ensure that justice is served.

“It is now time to go forward.

“I thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and on behalf of our family and Brad’s friends, thank you for allowing us to bring our understanding of Brad’s fate to this point.

Employer’s statement

Kinloch Farm co-owner Andrea B. Currier filed this statement, which the judge read before sentencing:

“A murder of a human being is a horrible event; for all of us who are associated with Brad Baker, it is an injury that overhangs our quality of life and lingers.

“It has been 32-1/2 years since the killing of Brad Baker, a close friend and colleague. Three decades is a significant portion of my lifetime. My immediate and extended family has lived with the unresolved reality of this murder each of these long years. My family and my community of friends and colleagues, on and off my farm, have suffered the effects of years of investigation, rumors, invasion of privacy and incompleteness.

“In a small, close community, the ripple in a pond is felt by many people. I speak to the trauma and intrusion in our lives over these years. I also testify to our faith that one day facts might be discovered and assembled to account for this murder.

“Brad Baker’s life cannot be returned; the time lost in confusion, hurt, interrupted lives cannot be reclaimed. I grieve deeply for all of our collective loss, sadness and the emotional heaviness that has sat on our shoulders all these 32-1/2 years.”
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