A sexually abusive former priest from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was released from custody after prosecutors dropped a bid to keep him locked up indefinitely in a mental hospital, officials said Wednesday.
Prosecutors informed the court that they will no longer pursue a petition to have former priest Michael Baker designated a sexually violent predator, which could have set the stage for keeping him in custody well past his August release date, said district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
The former priest, now 63, pleaded guilty in 2007 to 12 felony counts of oral copulation with a person under the age of 18 for abusing two boys he met at parishes in Pico Rivera and Los Angeles.
Baker did not plead guilty to any sexually violent offenses when he entered his pleas four years ago and therefore cannot qualify as a sexually violent predator under state law, according to a statement Gibbons provided that was read at a Friday court hearing.
The district attorney's office said it reserved the right to pursue such a designation for Baker if the law changes.
His attorney, Don Steier, declined to comment.
Baker's case seriously tarnished the reputation of then-Cardinal Roger Mahony, who said Baker told him at a retreat in 1986 that he had molested two young boys. Mahony said he didn't alert anyone because the priest told him the children were illegal immigrants who had returned to Mexico.
When the Los Angeles archdiocese settled its abuse cases for a record-breaking $660 million in 2007, lead plaintiff attorney Ray Boucher estimated that Baker's conduct accounted for $40 million of the total.
The two boys whose allegations led to the criminal case received a $1.2 million settlement.
Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement Wednesday that Baker caused terrible harm to multiple victims.
"Mr. Baker repeatedly lied to his superiors, therapists and friends, and manipulated treatment protocols in order to continue to prey upon young people," the statement read
Baker was released from a Los Angeles County jail on Monday, according to jail records.
He was released to a parole region that includes Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties and reported to his parole officer on Tuesday, said Dana Toyama, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.
Baker must register as a sex offender, but he was not listed on the state's online sex offender registry as of Wednesday.
Baker was initially charged with 34 counts of molestation involving six victims.
Those charges were dismissed in 2003 after the U.S. Supreme Court voided a California law that allowed the prosecution of cases involving acts that occurred before 1988.
However, allegations by the two boys and one other man allowed prosecutors to file charges against Baker that were within the statute of limitations.
In January 2006, the former priest was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a vacation in Thailand. He was later sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, but was released early due to time served while awaiting trial and credits for good behavior.