From Staff Reports
OAKLAND — Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Charles Minnick, 47, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the May 2011 slaying of Timothy Brandon Field Lax by Judge Jim Sherbin in circuit court on Friday.
Minnick entered an Alford plea in February for two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of 24-year-old Lax and 18-year-old Jessica Irene Baker.
Under this plea, Minnick did not concede to being guilty of the murders but acknowledged that the state had sufficient evidence and would likely find him guilty. After hearing the statement of facts, Sherbin found Minnick guilty on both counts of first-degree murder.
Prior to Minnick’s sentencing hearing, defense attorney Joseph Owens made a verbal motion to the court for Minnick to withdraw his guilty plea to one count.
Minnick was adamant that he had not killed Baker, according to a news release.
After conferring with the victims’ families and reviewing various legal issues, State’s Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch agreed for Minnick’s plea to be withdrawn with the specification that the state could request that Minnick receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Under the agreement as entered in February 2011, the state had withdrawn its notice of intent to seek a sentence of imprisonment without the possibility of parole, leaving the maximum sentence available as life with the possibility of parole for each count, according Welch.
“The state is not conceding to any of the factual allegations being made by defendant, but agreed to this resolution with the hope that Sherbin would sentence as he did — to life without parole,” said Welch in the news release.
“This provides a measure of finality to the families of the victims, clarification of the procedures to reduce potential appellate and post-conviction issues and, most importantly, assures a dangerous criminal will not be free to walk the streets of Garrett County, or any other community, in the future.”
During Minnick’s trial in February Sherbin said that he could receive two consecutive life terms.
Investigators with the Garrett County Sheriff’s Office arrested Minnick on June 3, 2011, for the murders of Lax and Baker, whose bodies were found in a campsite near the railroad tracks in Oakland.
Police found Minnick’s Smith & Wesson knife in the Youghiogheny River, in three feet of water, about 15 feet from Baker’s body.
Police concluded that the knife was “very consistent to killing Lax and could have been used to kill Baker,” according to the statement of facts. Three people confirmed to police that the knife did belong to Minnick.
Minnick, who grew up in nearby Mount Storm, W.Va., had recently returned to the area from North Carolina after serving time for a 1987 sexual offense in Cumberland County, N.C. That crime, described in public records as a forcible act of intercourse, led to Minnick being placed on the national sex offender registry. He registered in Maryland in March of last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.