Jimaya Baker. Jimari Baker. Princess Williams. Diovion Smith. Lauryn Darnell. La Darrien McCaskill. Two armed robberies in Palm Coast a year apart. Three victims, one of them shot and living the life of an invalid since, entirely cared for by his mother.
One mastermind throughout: Jimaya Baker.
She was 17 when she organized the Oct. 16, 2018 armed robbery that degraded into a shooting that left Carlos Saint Felix, 18 at the time, paralyzed on one side. The White Star Drive robbery involved Williams, who held the gun, Smith, Jimaya Baker and Darnell. Jimaya was 19 when she organized the Oct. 24, 2019, robbery of two teens at Seven Wonders Trail. Both robberies involved attempts to steal pot. The teens were not injured in the 2019 robbery.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s investigations were lengthy and complex, eventually leading to the arrests of all six co-conspirators, and involving agreements from Jimari Baker and Princess Williams to cooperate with prosecutors to secure convictions against the others, in exchange for leniency in their own sentences.
Today, at the end of a sentencing hearing that included the first, detailed disclosures of the severity of Saint Felix’s injuries and of his life since the shooting–his mother testified, breaking down in sobs as she described her only child’s condition in a wheelchair–Jimaya Baker was sentenced in both cases. She had pleaded, but to a somewhat open lea, leaving it up to Circuit Judge Terence Perkins to decide the punishment. The range was between seven and 15 years in prison. The defense asked for seven years. The prosecution asked for 15.
Perkins sentenced her to 15 in prison, followed by five years on probation.
Baker’s family members in the courtroom screamed their objections as soon as he pronounced the sentence
Perkins was not happy with being forced into the plea as negotiated. He said the two cases were entirely separate, and should have entailed consecutive sentences, not concurrent ones. “You took that away from the court,” he told the attorneys even as he complimented them for their arguments. Inevitably, concurrent sentences would have meant a longer sentence.
He sentenced her to 15 years in prison and five years of probation in each of the two cases, though in effect the double sentence amounted to the same 15 years.
Saint Felix is 22 years old now. After the shooting he was in the hospital for three months, then a month in rehab. He’s been living with his mother since. “My son is on a wheelchair because he had a major stroke and major brain surgery. He is in a wheelchair because he’s paralyzed on the right side.” He has difficulties speaking. “He can open his mouth, but the words can’t come out,” his mother said. He cannot bathe himself, use the bathroom by himself or feed himself. He can only feed himself. He has weekly physical, speech and occupational therapy sessions. But the doctors are not expecting him to walk again, or be independent in any way. They are not even expecting him to speak again. His mother was describing his condition, answering the prosecutor’s questions, with a worn handkerchief in her hands.
“And I know this is painful, and I I’m sorry, but I want to make sure that the court understands how your son is doing today,” Clark told her. Saint Felix’s mother described how before the shooting he had been attending college. “He was a healthy young man,” she said.
How has it affected your life?”
“Oh, my goodness,” she replied, and at that point broke down in subs. “It’s killing me. It destroyed my son.” She could not speak through her sobs as she tried to explain how it destroyed her and her only child. “It’s killing me to see my son like this.”
What I’d like to see happen–I don’t have hatred in my heart for young people,” she said. “But I don’t know what’s wrong with them, why they want to destroy each other.” She said she could not understand what they would do this to her son, but that there had to be a price paid.
Baker’s mother also testified, describing her daughter’s skillful years as a varsity basketball player even when she was in eighth grade, continued to do well in high school, only to get involved in drugs. She was receiving scholarship offers to go to college, and was afraid she would be arrested in college, as a consequence of the 2018 incident. Her mother described how she had gotten involved in the wrong crowd, had health issues, “couldn’t stop” smoking pot or using Xanax, and was further mixed up because of her struggles with her sexual identity: in her mind, her mother said, she felt she should have been born a boy. She had counseling, liked going as it eased her pains.
“She is terribly sorry. I’m sorry,” her mother testified this morning. “I feel my heart goes out to the family. I wish it never happened. And she’s understanding, and that’s where you want to know that the person understands what was wrong, so they can move on. If you don’t know what you did was wrong. it means that you will still do something, and she has matured into a woman where she knows like, ‘look, my life is not this. I have my future ahead of me.'”
And Jimaya Baker testified. She was appearing from the Volusia County Branch Jail–where she is incarcerated on yet another charge: accessory to robbery, dating from an August 29, 2020 incident.
“Are you sorry for what happened? For what you did?” her attorney asked her.
“People got hurt, and that was never my intention, and everything has been downhill since,” she said. She apologized to Saint Felix and to his mother and his family, then read a statement, taking full responsibility and accountability, and acknowledging her impending and inevitable prison sentence. “That doesn’t make it okay. I’m just asking for everyone’s forgiveness,” she said. “If I had not come to jail, I probably would have never opened my eyes to want to better myself. I plan on furthering my education in prison. They have different programs that I’m interested in, so I’ll keep going.”
Since there never was to be a trial, today’s sentencing was the most public disclosure of facts until now known only to investigators, prosecutors and the defense. Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark, who prosecuted the case, had two lead detectives testify about the two Palm Coast robberies.
“It was clear from the investigation that it was Jimaya Baker who set up this particular robbery,” Clark argued. “She knew the victim, the victim had, I believe, sold cannabis to her before. She indicated to her co-conspirators that he would be an easy victim. And that’s why she picked him. She’s the one who set up the situation, lured Carlos Saint Felix out of his house with his girlfriend to meet them at night, under the guise that they were going to be be exchanging cannabis, when in fact the whole plan was that they would rob him of whatever drugs and money he had on his person, that a firearm was going to be involved.”
No one intended to shoot anyone: that was clear from everyone’s testimony, even from their actions: Williams pulled the trigger when she was attempting to open the door of the car Saint Felix had gotten into. She slipped. She unintentionally fired, striking Saint Felix gravely in the neck, breaking his vertebra and triggering a stroke. “And it’s frankly just tragic,” Clark said. “And well yes, he was engaged in criminal activity. He should not have been dealing drugs. But by no means does that in any way warrant or justify or in any way excuse what happened that particular day. I mean, this is a guy that was 19 years old, and now is living in a state where he needs help to do the basic things in life… and that’s because Jimaya Baker set this whole thing in motion.”
Kurt Teifke, Jimaya’s attorney, tried to distance her from the use of the gun, and to cast some shadows on the deal Williams reached to testify against Jimaya, the implication being that Williams was facing a much steeper punishment for being the shooter. He argued “she was 16 years old” at the time of the first robbery (she was actually 17), and 17 at the time of the second (actually 18), and that her youth should play a role against a 15-year sentence. “I think that length of time, and it sets things in stone, unfortunately, and takes away redemption,” he said. “We were all bad decision makers likely at 16 and 17 and thought we knew everything. It is just simply not true.” He then blamed the victim even as he claimed not to be blaming the victim. “This is different than if this was an 85 year old woman at an ATM. It just is. Not that it should have befallen him, clearly, no. But this is kind of the underbelly.”
Clark rejected the attorney’s argument. “This is not just bad decision making. This is very criminal violent behavior and it needs to be addressed,” she said. “It needs to be punished and I think that the only way that we can ensure that that punishment is handed down, that it’s appropriate, is the 15 years on asking for.”
Baker, 20, faced a charge of principal to a robbery with a firearm, a first degree felony, and attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, a second degree felony in one case, and conspiracy to robbery with a firearm and attempted robbery with a firearm, both first degree felonies, in the second case. In all, she could have been sentenced to prison for life. She also faces a principal to a robbery with a firearm charge in Volusia County, but that was not relevant to today’s sentencing. She pleaded to the Flagler charges in September.
Darnell, 20, was facing 30 years in prison. She was sentenced to three years followed by three years on probation last June after a plea.
Smith, now 22, pleaded on Dec. 1. He faced up to 30 years in prison. He will serve 48 months in prison, or four years. He is to be sentenced on Feb. 1.
McCaskill, 24, a Palatka resident, faces a first-degree felony charge of principal to a robbery with a firearm. He pleaded to robbery in December 2020, agreeing to “testify truthfully” about his co-conspirators, Jimaya and Jimari Baker. He will be sentenced on Jan. 24, but in accordance with youthful offender sentencing guidelines.
Jimari Baker, now 22, faced the same first-degree felony charge. He pleaded last September. He was sentenced on Sept. 13 to three years in prison followed by five years on probation.
Jimaya Baker was given credit for 497 days already served at the Flagler and Volusia jails, knocking off a year and four months from her sentence. With gain time, which would allow her to leave prison after 12 years and eight months, that means she could be out of prison in a little over 11 years.
The cases were investigated in large part by the sheriff’s Cpl. Andrew Cangialosi, Cpl. Augustin Rodriguez, and Sgt. George Hristakopoulos, in one of the agency’s lengthier investigations in recent memory.