Jean Peters Baker has demonstrated once again why she might be the best Jackson County prosecutor in at least the last 45 years — as long as I’ve been following Jackson County politics.
We’ve had some good prosecutors during that time, including now-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and the late Albert Riederer. We’ve had some sketchy prosecutors, too, like Joe Teasdale, who somehow went on to get himself elected governor, and, before him, Ralph Martin.
As a reporter for The Star, I covered parts of the Martin and Teasdale administrations, and I believe political considerations and personal connections too often guided decision-making.
Not so with Baker, about whom The Star said recently, “She is known to put justice and the law above all else.”
And, so, there she was on the front page of this morning’s paper, announcing charges in the tragic case of 30-year-old Kyle Van Winkle, who made the mistake about three months ago of getting into the wrong green Jeep in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot.
In the photo, Baker’s left hand rests on the arm of Van Winkle’s father, Dean Van Winkle, who is looking down, lips tight. Next to Dean is his wife Cindy, hands folded in front of her as she looks at Baker.
It is a grim and sad photo, but it also speaks of justice.
Kyle Van Winkle’s killer will almost surely be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and he will likely do prison time. The defendant is 25-year-old Joshua T. Bradley of Independence.
Here’s a guy, who from all accounts, beat the crap out of a drunken, stoned or sick Van Winkle after Van Winkle had left the Chiefs-Broncos game in the first quarter and mistakenly crawled into a Jeep that looked like the one he had come to the game in. Unfortunately, he was off by about 10 parking spaces.
A bunch of people were tailgating, which revolves around drinking, and the guy who owns the Jeep that Van Winkle was sleeping in sent his 10- or 11-year-old son to get help. Why the guy thought he needed help I don’t understand, but maybe that will come out at trial, if there is one.
After Van Winkle either got out of the vehicle or was pulled out, words apparently were exchanged. Court records quote the Jeep owner as saying, “The bigger feller (Bradley), he walked away and something was said and he turned around and he just started hitting him (Van Winkle).”
Then, according to today’s KC Star story:
“After Van Winkle fell to the ground, the attacker continued hitting him…The attacker left Van Winkle on the pavement. Another bystander propped him up against a bus.
“After they noticed Van Winkle had turned blue, bystanders flagged down a security guard and started CPR.”
And what did Bradley see fit to do? Well, “the bigger feller,” who so valiantly had come to the rescue of the helpless Jeep owner, took off. Bolted!
When it was time to really be a man — to stand up and admit that he had completely overreacted — he went home.
Left for dead, propped up against that bus, was a college graduate who worked at a bank as a loan officer, a young husband, the father of a seven-week-old son.
But like I said at the top, there’s a good thing about this case: We have a prosecutor who pursues criminals without fear or favor. She knows what people go through when they lose a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister or even a close friend to homicide.
She reaches out and touches heartbroken parents. And she slams her prosecutorial fist down on the thugs.