Woman gets 50 years

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Driver in burglaries, murder

By Buster Thompson
Citrus County Chronicle

Circuit Judge Richard “Ric” Howard said Jessica Baker could have easily turned her cohort Darren Decker over to police as his murderous home-burglary spree ran rampant in Florida.
But Baker didn’t and that’s why Howard sentenced the 46-year-old Ocala woman to 50 years in prison for her role in the 2016 home invasion and murder of Citrus County resident Don “Terry” Plumeri and nine other home burglaries from Marion County.
“She was the driver… all she had to do was drive off, find a cop and say enough, but she didn’t,” Howard said at Baker’s sentencing hearing Monday afternoon.
Baker’s 50-year punishment will be served concurrently with the 30-year prison term a circuit judge out of Sumter County handed her in late January on five related felony cases.
In accordance with Baker’s plea deal, Howard could not sentence Baker, who had already pleaded guilty to her charges, to more prison time than 50 years.
In a timid voice, Baker said Monday she accepts responsibility for her crimes and submitted a written statement to Howard, who didn’t read it aloud.
Baker’s sentencing ends a roughly two-year-old case that began with Baker and her boyfriend Decker, also of Ocala, burglarizing roughly 60 homes in several counties across central and north Florida.
Police dubbed them the “pillowcase bandits” because they left a trail of missing pillowcases, which they used to make off with goods they stole.
A verdict was never given to Decker, who was found in March 2017 in his jail cell hanging by his bed sheets. He later died at a local hospital of asphyxiation at age 42, leaving Baker to take on their charges.
“He didn’t stick around to exonerate her, he took the coward’s way out,” Howard told Baker on Monday.
Baker’s attorney, Charles Vaughn, asked for Howard to give her client a more lenient sentence because Decker forced her to be his accomplice, and that she was already serving prison time.
Prosecutor Pete Magrino recommended Baker get the maximum because he could not believe Baker’s defense that she knew very little about Decker’s criminal actions.
Howard seemed to agree that Baker’s involvement was profound.
“You will have lifetime to watch your kids grow up from the letters they write to you,” Howard told Baker before sentencing her.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Special Agent Octovio Aguero testified FDLE started spearheading statewide investigations into the bandits’ burglaries in March 2016.
Using a number of rental cars, Baker would drive Decker to houses where he would pry his way inside, before stealing jewelry, cash, prescription drugs and firearms, Aguero said.
Decker and Baker brought their hauls back to their home off of Northeast 25th Avenue, to sort through them — sometimes smelting down metals — before selling them at flea markets or to private buyers.
Prosecutors also played video recording of Baker and Decker’s teenage daughter testifying to witnessing her parents making deals to people out of their car.
After tracking down and getting in touch with someone who bought from Decker, authorities were able to set up a false buy between Decker and his buyer.
Police were then able to tail the couple back to their home and surveillance them further before apprehending them on April 18.
Authorities searched the couple’s home and a Marion County storage unit, seizing numerous stolen goods, including 46 firearms, Aguero said.
Investigators were able to tie Decker and Baker to the burglary of a Dunnellon-area home and its owner Plumeri, who was an accomplished musician and composer.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputies found Plumeri’s slain body was April 1, 2016, inside his home off of West Candier Court.
CCSO Sgt. John Bergen testified deputies arrived to find a busted front door and 71-year-old Plumeri dead, partly bound and facedown on the ground of his bedroom.
His body was found in April 2016 inside his Dunnellon-area home, where he was slain by Darren Decker during the course of an armed burglary.
Bergen said Decker had stabbed Plumeri almost 90 times, including 10 to his head, with a screwdriver, but his cause of death was by asphyxiation from the duct tape wrapped around his face.
Baker, who drove Decker to Plumeri’s home and stayed in the car, told police Decker was in Plumeri’s home for roughly 30 minutes, Bergen said.
Plumeri’s relatives showed Howard a video of Plumeri conducting his own composition of classical music, which echoed through Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London and Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow.
Plumeri’s sister said at the time of his death, Plumeri was working with music students in Gainesville.
“All that surrounded him at worth was his music and musical instruments,” she said. “Nothing of value was taken, just his life.”
Vaughn on Monday tried to lessen his client’s punishment by bringing in mitigation specialist Erica Dahlquist, who questioned Baker and reviewed her case.
Dahlquist testified Baker suffered through intense and numerous instances of abuses and trauma during her childhood and 24-year relationship with Decker.
“This was a woman who had been under control for years and years,” Dahlquist said, adding Decker would manipulate her by threatening their three children and even forced her to have sex with strangers for his drugs.
In an interview with investigators, Baker said she and Decker committed the burglaries because they were short on money, and that Decker didn’t coerce her to help him commit these crimes.
Dahlquist said that couldn’t be true because Decker, in a letter he wrote just before his suicide, confessed to his actions and how he intimidated Baker into acting as his accomplice.
Prosecutors argued Dahlquist’s reporting on Baker wasn’t confirmed by sources other than Baker.
Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.