Special prosecutor named in Baker case
By Beth Kramer firstname.lastname@example.org January 3, 2013 7:46PM
Updated: March 5, 2013 2:59AM
A special prosecutor has been brought in to take over the Daniel Baker case because Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim has a professional connection to the convicted murderer.
Baker of Deerfield was convicted in November of bludgeoning to death Marina Aksman with a baseball bat in her Vernon Hills residence on April 1, 2010. He is awaiting sentencing and may spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Nerheim was co-defense counsel with Ed Genson for more than a year following Baker’s arrest in 2010. At the time, Nerheim was working as a private practice defense attorney. He since was elected state’s attorney in November 2012.
Baker’s trial concluded before the November elections, with Nerheim withdrawing from the Baker case before he started campaigning for state’s attorney.
Nerheim said he spent “countless hours” speaking with Baker about the charges against him during several visits to the jail for the year or so that he was on the case.
“In the abundance of caution, I thought in the interest of fairness and caution, it would be most appropriate to have a new prosecutor handle the case,” Nerheim said.
He said there could be the appearance of impropriety if his office continued to prosecute someone he had represented.
“If I represent somebody, I learn things that are protected by the attorney-client privilege. There can’t be any appearance that any of that (information) was used in the prosecution of (Baker),” Nerheim said.
Special Prosecutor Dave Neal of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor office is taking over the Baker case for sentencing, according to court documents.
Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes signed an order appointed a special prosecutor Dec. 21, according to court records.
Neal is one of six prosecutors who is part of the special prosecution unit at the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, headquartered in Springfield. Neal served as Grundy County state’s attorney from 1988 to 1996.
Special prosecutors like him are appointed to avoid a potential conflict of interest or the potential appearance of impropriety, he said.
“Essentially, I’m acting as the assistant state’s attorney. This happens fairly often. About 25 to 30 new state’s attorneys (statewide) seem to come in every election cycle,” Neal said.
During the 2012 fiscal year, ILSAAP prosecuted 482 cases in 84 counties, according to its Web site, www.ilsaap.org.
Special prosecutors will likely be brought in on the other 25 cases or so that Nerheim dealt with as a private defense attorney.
Nerheim said he turned the defense of those cases over to his partner, Dan Zeit. Nerheim also said that the majority of the 25 cases he was involved with are misdemeanor and DUI cases, and just a few felonies. Baker was the only murder case, he said.
Neal will step up to prosecute Baker when the case is called Jan. 8, at which time attorneys will decide if sentencing will proceed on Jan. 9.